A possible link has been found between lymphoma and tattoos

A possible link has been found between lymphoma and tattoos

Swedish research cautiously suggests that tattoos may be a risk factor for lymphoma. But more research is urgently needed.

Many people have tattoos, but we actually know very little about the health consequences of getting a tattoo (in the long term). This needs to change, according to Swedish researchers. So they decided to investigate the matter. Their initial findings were somewhat alarming right away. For example, the Swedish study hints at a possible link between tattoos and lymphoma.

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To conduct their study, the scientists examined data from 2,938 people who had been diagnosed with lymphoma. In addition, they collected a control group, consisting of people of the same gender and age as the group of lymphoma patients. “All participants completed a questionnaire about their lifestyle and any tattoos,” says researcher Christel Nielsen.

The researchers then examined whether there was a link between tattoos and the risk of lymphoma. “After taking into account other relevant factors (which can affect the chance of developing lymphoma), such as smoking and age, we found that the chance of developing lymphoma was 21% higher for those who were tattooed,” Nielsen said.

A call for further research
This may sound very worrying, but scientists stress that their findings at this stage are primarily a reason for further research, not panic. “It is important to remember that lymphoma is a very rare disease and that a 21 percent increased risk of developing lymphoma results in a very small chance of developing lymphoma.” Furthermore, it should be noted that this is only the first study on a possible link between lymphoma and tattoos, and the nature of the association found is unclear. “More research is needed before we can conclude that tattoos cause lymphoma,” Nielsen emphasizes. “But our study clearly shows that we need to gain a better understanding of how tattoos affect our health.”

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Much is unknown
Because although many people have tattoos these days, we know very little about the impact ink pads have on our long-term health. “There has been a lot of interest in the last 10 years in the chemical composition of tattoo ink,” Nielsen says. “Especially in Europe. Tattoo ink often contains chemicals that we know can lead to cancer – albeit in a different context – for example among people who work a lot with these inks. Thanks to previous research, we now know that the ink does not remain Where the tattoo artist places it, “We know that the ink is carried away from the skin by the immune system,” Nielsen says. “The body is trying to get rid of the ink particles — which it sees as something foreign, something that doesn’t belong.” It has been proven that ink particles travel to the lymph nodes and are stored there permanently. This science then inspired Nielsen and his colleagues to look specifically at the possible relationship between tattoos and lymphoma. “We wanted to understand how our health is affected by the permanent storage of toxic chemicals in the immune system.” A tentative link has been found between tattoos and lymphoma.

The size of the tattoo does not matter
Before the study, Nielsen and colleagues expected that the risk of lymphoma would also be affected by the size of the tattoo. For example, they thought that large tattoos on the back could be associated with a higher risk of lymphoma than small tattoos. But it turned out, surprisingly enough, to be wrong; There was no relationship between tattoo size and the risk of lymphoma. “We don’t know why that is,” Nielsen says. “We can only speculate at this point that tattoos — regardless of size — cause low-grade inflammation in the body that can lead to cancer.”

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For now, researchers continue to stress that this is just speculation. Follow-up research is urgently needed to uncover the presumed relationship between lymphoma and tattoos. And also to clarify any other health effects that the tattoo may have (in the long term). “As a researcher, but also as someone who has tattoos, I find it very disturbing that even though tattoos are common these days, we don’t know what effect tattoos have on health,” Nielsen said. “Our study clearly reveals that tattoo research should be a priority in the future.”

Regarding the latter, Nielsen and his colleagues are putting their money where their mouth is; They are continuing their research into the potential health effects of tattoos. They soon want to check whether there is also a link between tattoos and other forms of cancer. Nielsen says it’s important research. “I am convinced that people will continue to get tattoos and that we have a social responsibility to ensure that this is done as safely as possible.”

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