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Hard New Findings About TattoosNew research raises concerns about possibly toxic ink ingredients.

That tattoo you’ve been dreaming of to express your individuality? It could come with a price.

A new study finds the ink used in creating popular body art contains toxic ingredients linked to a higher risk of lymphoma, cancer that begins in germ-fighting lymphatic system. Having just a single tattoo seems to raise your odds.

Tattoos Increase Cancer Risk by 21 Percent

Tattoos have grown increasingly popular as a means of self-expression. Around 32 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, and an estimated 22 percent have multiple.

However, as tattoos become more widespread, so too has the incidence of malignant lymphoma—increasing 3 percent to 4 percent over the past 40 years. Recent research from Lund University in Sweden, published in The Lancet’s eClinicalMedicine, suggests a potential connection.

The study analyzed data from nearly 12,000 people aged 20 to 60, matched with a control group of the same age and sex without lymphoma. Participants completed questionnaires about lifestyle factors, including tattoos. Researchers found that those with tattoos were more likely to develop malignant lymphoma compared to those without tattoos.

People with tattoos had a 21 percent higher risk of developing any type of lymphoma after adjusting for other factors.

The lymphoma risk was highest (81 percent higher) for those who got their first tattoo less than two years before being diagnosed. The risk decreased for those who had gotten their tattoos between three and 10 years ago but increased again (19 percent higher risk) for those who had gotten their first tattoo 11 or more years ago.

Size Doesn’t Seem to Matter

A larger total tattoo size did not seem to increase the risk further.

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“We do not yet know why this was the case,” Christel Nielsen, who led the study, said in a press release. ”One can only speculate that a tattoo, regardless of size, triggers a low-grade inflammation in the body, which in turn can trigger cancer.”

The picture is thus more complex than initially thought, she noted.

The research is the first to investigate tattoos as a risk factor for cancer in the lymphatic system, Ms. Nielsen told The Epoch Times. Further studies investigating potential links between tattoos and other cancer types are underway.

While acknowledging that tattoos will likely remain popular forms of self-expression, Ms. Nielsen said, “It is important to make people aware that tattoos may have adverse health effects and that you should seek medical care if you have complaints that you associate with a tattoo.”

Growing Evidence for Tattoo-Related Cancer Risks

“We know that tattoo ink often contains hazardous chemicals and that it is deposited in lymph nodes,” Ms. Nielsen told The Epoch Times. The immune system always “attempts to clean out the ink particles that it perceives as something foreign that should not be there,” she added.

A 2022 study published in Toxicology and Industrial Health identified toxic substances in tattoo inks and warned that they “could pose toxicological risks to human health.”
Ms. Nielsen’s research adds to previous work linking tattoos to increased cancer risk. A study presented at the 2023 American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting identified a potential link between having three or more large tattoos and higher risks of blood cancers, myeloid neoplasms (bone marrow cancers), and lymphoma.

The findings showed that compared to never receiving a tattoo, getting a first tattoo before age 20 was associated with elevated myeloid neoplasm risk, while receiving a first tattoo at age 20 or older was linked to higher lymphoma risk. However, the authors cautioned that these estimates were “imprecise.”

Certain ink colors have been tied to skin cancer risks. A 2021 case series found that black and red inks were associated with increased risks of deadly skin cancers like melanoma, basal cell carcinoma (the most common type), and dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a rare, slow-growing soft tissue tumor.
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