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Tattoos Trigger Health Risks, Including a Rare Form of Cancer

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By Abi Gibson - - 5 Mins Read
Woman with tattoos sips coffee
Featured | Annie Spratt/Unsplas

A new study from Sweden has revealed a link between tattoos and an increased risk of lymphoma, a rare form of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.

The study, conducted by researchers at Lynd University, investigates the long-term health effects of tattoos, an area where academic knowledge has been lacking.

Dr. Christel Nielsen, the lead researcher, said that while lymphoma is a rare disease, the findings are applied at a group level.

"Our results need further verification, and additional studies are ongoing," Dr. Nielsen stated.

The study involved 11,905 participants, including 2,938 individuals aged 20 to 60 diagnosed with lymphoma. Of these, 54% answered a questionnaire about their tattoo history, compared to 47% of a control group without lymphoma.

The researchers discovered that 21% of those with lymphoma had tattoos, compared to 18% in the control group. This suggests a 21% higher risk of developing lymphoma among tattooed individuals, even after accounting for factors like smoking and age. Notably, the tattoo's size on the body did not impact the risk level.

The most common lymphoma subtypes identified were diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (28%), Hodgkin lymphoma (21%), and follicular lymphoma (18%).

The average age of those diagnosed ranged from 51 to 57 years, with Hodgkin lymphoma patients averaging 36 years old.

Also read: Odd body changes that are telltale signs of cancer

Symptoms of Lymphoma

Lymphoma manifests in two primary forms: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). 

General symptoms include:

  1. Heavy night sweats
  2. High, unexplained fevers
  3. Unexplained weight loss
  4. Persistent tiredness
  5. Itchy skin that doesn’t go away
  6. Painful swollen lymph nodes after alcohol consumption in some Hodgkin lymphoma cases


Photo of a person getting a tattoo inscribed on the arm
Inscribing a tattoo on a person | benjamin lehman/Unsplash


Dr. Nielsen said that the precise reason tattoos might increase lymphoma risk remains unclear. ‘One 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.’

‘We already know that when the tattoo ink is injected into the skin, the body interprets this as something foreign that should not be there, and the immune system is activated. A large part of the ink is transported away from the skin to the lymph nodes where it is deposited.’ she added. 

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The Need for Further Research

Researchers said further studies are needed to confirm these findings and explore the underlying causes.

Additionally, the popularity of tattoos continues to rise. A recent survey by YouGov indicates that 26% of the British population has tattoos, especially among those aged 25 to 54.

Across Europe, tattoo prevalence among adults under 40 reaches 30-40%. Given these numbers, understanding tattoo health hazards is increasingly important. 

Health Risks Associated with Tattoos

Although the studies have revealed a potential cancer link, there are other tattoo health risks that individuals should consider: 

  1. Allergic Reactions and Infections

Tattoos can carry several health risks beyond the link to lymphoma.

One common issue is allergic reactions to dyes or tattoo ink, which cause rashes or itching, particularly in hypersensitive individuals. Additionally, the tattooing process, which involves continuous skin piercing, increases the risk of skin infections.

Symptoms of infection include rash, redness, itching, and pus discharge, requiring medical attention to prevent complications.

  1. Swelling, Burning, and Granulomas

Swelling and a burning sensation around the tattoo area are common post-tattooing experiences.

These symptoms can worsen with exposure to harsh sunlight or chlorinated water. In some cases, granulomas, or inflamed skin tissue, can form around the tattoo site, presenting as small nodules.

While granulomas are typically not painful, they can become a cosmetic concern.


  1. Keloids, Scarring, and Bloodborne Diseases

Another risk associated with tattoos is the development of keloids, which are slightly raised areas of skin that match the skin's color.

Scarring, although less common, can also occur after getting a tattoo. Furthermore, if the equipment or needles used for tattooing are contaminated, there is a risk of contracting bloodborne diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.


  1. MRI Complications

During MRI scans, individuals with tattoos may experience pain or burning sensations at the tattoo site.

This issue is more common among those with extensive tattoos covering large portions of their bodies.

MRI complications are less of a concern for people with one or two tattoos.