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Tattoos may increase the risk of malignant lymphoma cancer


New evidence from a large published study shows that tattoos increase the risk of lymphoma, a type of cancer. Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, a key part of our immune system.

I’m always amused by people who think that tattoos are safe but vaccines are dangerous. I won’t get into a long discussion on tattoos, because that’s not the point of this article.

We know that tattoos do have certain risks, especially infections from needles that aren’t properly sterilized, but that’s pretty rare these days as most licensed tattoo parlors are strict about sanitary measures.

However, there hasn’t been much research into whether tattoos are linked to other conditions such as cancer. That’s what makes this study so interesting.

So, as I usually do, I will present the results from the study on tattoos and lymphoma. And whether you should worry about the risk.

person holding hands tattoos lymphoma
Photo by Marcelo Chagas on Pexels.com

Tattoos and the risk of lymphoma study

In a paper published on 21 May 2024 in EClinicalMedicine, Christel Nielsen, PhD, of Lund University in Sweden, and colleagues examined the medical records of nearly 12,000 individuals in Sweden. The researchers identified all incident cases of malignant lymphoma diagnosed from 2007 to 2017 in patients ages 20 to 60 years in the Swedish National Cancer Register. Three random age- and sex-matched controls per patient were sampled from the Total Population Register using incidence density sampling. They compared the incidence of malignant lymphoma in cohorts that had received tattoos to those that had not.

Here are the key results from the study:

  • The group with tattoos had a 21% higher risk of overall lymphoma compared with non-tattooed individuals after adjusting for factors such as education, age, income, and smoking status.
  • Individuals with tattoos had a 30% higher risk of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
  • Individuals with tattoos had a 29% higher risk of follicular lymphoma.
  • The risk of lymphoma was 81% in those with less than two years between their first tattoo and the index year.

Photo by Sherman Yang on Unsplash

Summary

It’s important to note that this study only showed an association between tattoos and malignant lymphoma, but it does not establish causality. There may be some other factor that is different between the tattoo and non-tattoo groups that increases the risk for lymphoma.

The authors addressed this in their conclusion:

Our findings suggested that tattoo exposure was associated with an increased risk of malignant lymphoma. More epidemiologic research is urgently needed to establish causality.

Furthermore, the study population only included Swedish individuals, so there could be demographic factors that biased the results.

However, these results are intriguing and concerning. The authors wrote:

If these findings can be corroborated by further studies, they would indicate that exposure to tattoo ink may be associated with both tumor initiation, which is often associated with a latency of several years, and tumor promotion where effects occur much faster.

Since tattoos have become very popular recently, it would be important that researchers attempt to determine if there is a causal link between tattoos and cancers like lymphomas. This could be a serious public health issue if the link is shown to be causal.

Furthermore, if the risk is real, it still appears to be small. There are better ways to reduce your risk of cancer until further research confirms the risk of tattoos and malignant lymphoma.

Citations

Michael Simpson
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