As more and more Americans tattoo their bodies, some have wondered whether there may be a hidden risk (other than the risk of regretting the tattoo a few years down the road).
Many inks are made with metals; blue, for example, contains cobalt and aluminum, and red may contain mercury sulfide. That, along with the fact that tattooing can be traumatizing to the skin, prompted suspicion that tattoos might lead to skin cancer. Studies in recent years have documented a few cases of cancer at a tattoo site.
But Dr. Ariel Ostad, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, says that does not mean the tattoo caused the cancer. Indeed, he said, the ink is unlikely to do any harm because it is confined to cells in the skin called macrophages, whose job is to absorb foreign material.
More likely, he said, the tattoo was placed on an existing mole, making any changes in the mole hard to spot. Several case studies have dealt with melanomas that were overlooked because they arose from moles hidden by tattoos. Dr. Ostad says he is often asked whether tattoos can lead to cancer, and the answer “is unequivocally no.”
“But people should know that they should always leave a rim of healthy skin around a pre-existing mole.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
There is no evidence that tattoos lead to skin cancer.