Tattoo ink could cause false alarms in breast cancer screenings, some experts say

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While there's no evidence tattoos are linked to breast cancer, the ink may sometimes look like calcium deposits in mammograms — an indicator that cancer has metastasized, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported July 7. 

That was the case for Gina Pozzi, who has a large tattoo on her right arm. When Ms. Pozzi went for her annual mammogram, X-rays showed white specks in her armpit lymph nodes. They looked like calcium deposits, sparking an anxiety ridden waiting game for Ms. Pozzi, whose mother died of breast cancer at age 47. 

Breast and lymph node tissue biopsies later showed Ms. Pozzi had an early-stage, readily treatable breast tumor, and what looked like calcium deposits turned out to be ink from her tattoo — a sigh of relief. 

That happened because her immune cells absorbed some of the pigment, which traveled to the lymph nodes. 

"I have seen [tattoo pigment in lymph nodes] many times," Susan Summerton, MD, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Pennsylvania. "The first case report was back in 2004. Now, we probably see it a couple times a month," Ms. Summerton told the Inquirer

While increasingly recognized by radiologists and other medical professionals, the ability of ink to show in mammograms as a misleading diagnosis is not well-known among the general public. 

"I don't know if it's the responsibility of the tattoo artist or doctors or others to inform women," Ms. Pozzi said. "I don't want to be an alarmist. I just think women should have that information." 

Since lymph nodes in other areas of the body aren't routinely X-rayed, it's unknown whether specks of tattoo pigment migrate to other parts of the body. 

"If you have a leg tattoo, there is no imaging of groin lymph nodes," Dr. Summerton said. 

To read the full Philadelphia Inquirer article, click here

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