A 30-year-old woman in Australia feared she had cancer after noticing small lumps in her armpit – only to be told that she was in fact experiencing a reaction to an old tattoo.
Doctors involved in the case at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney wrote about the case in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal, published on October 2.
The woman had a large black tattoo on her back that was inked 15 years ago, and a two-year old tattoo on her shoulder.
She sought medical attention after noticing the lumps for about two weeks. When doctors removed one of the swollen nodes – some of which were up to 1.5cm in diameter – they discovered that it was not cancerous. Instead, they found black pigment in the lumps from 15 years ago, and realised that she was experiencing a reaction to the older inking.
Dr. Christian Bryant, a hematologist at the hospital who was involved in the case, told CNN: “Ninety-nine times out of 100, (this) will be lymphoma.”
The first case of its kind
The doctors said it was the first time they had heard of a case in which the lymph nodes were deep enough to mimic symptoms of lymphoma.
Dr. Bill Stebbins, director of cosmetic dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who did not participate in the report, told CNN: “The skin has its own immune cells that are always surveilling the skin.”
He added that once these immune cells found the tattoo pigment, a foreign substance, they ingested it and travelled from the skin to the lymph nodes over time.
“The pigment is too large for these cells to eat and digest,” Stebbins said. “That’s why they’re still there many years later.”
The doctors could not however, explain why she reacted to the tattoo.
Tattoos are more popular than ever. The Telegraph reports that now around one third of young adults has a tattoo in Britain.
Dr. Bruce Katz, a fellow with the American Academy of Dermatology and director of the Juva Skin and Laser Center in Manhattan, also told CNN: “It’s crucial to do your research: Make sure the artist is reputable, get references from clients, and ensure that they are using disposable needles and unopened ink to prevent infections.”