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A recent study conducted by researchers at Lund University in Sweden suggests a potential association between malignant lymphoma, a form of cancer affecting the lymphatic system, and individuals with tattoos. However, health experts caution that further investigation is needed to establish a definitive link between the two.

Under the leadership of Christel Nielsen, PhD, the research team examined information from 11,905 individuals living in Sweden, sifting through to find patients diagnosed with lymphoma between 2007 and 2017 and individuals of the same age and gender who did not have cancer. 

They focused on individuals between the ages of 20 and 60. The research team accessed information from the Swedish National Cancer Register to gather their data. Among the population sample, 2,938 patients aged 20 to 60 were diagnosed with lymphoma.

According to the study, 1,398 patients with lymphoma and 4,193 cancer-free participants were surveyed in 2021. The aim was to gather insights into lifestyle factors that may contribute to the risk of malignant lymphomas, such as smoking and age, and details about their tattoos if they had one or more. 

Here are the findings.

Researchers found that 21% of patients with lymphoma and 18% of cancer-free patients had tattoos. Notably, Lund University experts discovered that the risk of developing lymphoma was 21% higher among those who were tattooed. The risk of lymphoma was highest in individuals with less than two years between their first tattoos

Initially, the researchers speculated that the size of tattoos might impact the risk of lymphoma. They considered that individuals with full-body tattoos might face a higher risk than those with smaller tattoos. However, upon analysis, they found no correlation between the area of the tattooed body surface and the risk of malignant lymphoma.

“We do not yet know why this was the case. [We] 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 we initially thought,” Dr. Nielsen said of the Lund University study.

Dr. Nielsen warned that further research is needed to understand tattoos’ potential long-term health implications fully. The team is currently gearing up to conduct a comprehensive assessment to investigate the possible correlations between tattoos, various types of cancer and inflammatory diseases.

“People will likely want to continue to express their identity through tattoos, and therefore, it is vital that we, as a society, can ensure that it is safe. For the individual, it is good to know that tattoos can affect your health and that you should turn to your healthcare provider if you experience symptoms that could be related to your tattoo,” Dr. Nielsen concluded.

Black women may be at risk.

As researchers continue to explore the connection between tattoos and cancer, Black women need to be aware, as they are more inclined to get tattoos compared to other ethnic groups. A 2023 study by Pew Research found that 39% of Black Americans have tattoos, surpassing rates among Hispanic (35%), White (32%) and Asian Americans (14%). The study also highlighted that 38% of women, especially those aged 18 to 49, have tattoos, compared to 27% of men.

The lymphatic system serves as the body’s defense mechanism against diseases. It comprises lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland, and bone marrow. Per Healthline, malignant lymphoma can spread throughout the lymphatic system, causing serious harm. The two primary types of lymphoma are Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

While the occurrence of malignant lymphoma in Black women is relatively low, a study from 2017 revealed that they are more prone to displaying high-risk characteristics of follicular lymphoma, a low-grade form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). Follicular lymphoma manifests when white blood cells clump together to create lumps in lymph glands or organs. This condition frequently emerges in Black women under the age of 45.

However, Black women face a higher risk of developing other forms of cancer, such as breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, they are 41% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, despite being less frequently diagnosed. Additionally, concerning rates of early-onset colorectal and lung cancers are on the rise among Black women, the CDC noted.


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