According to a study by Dr. Ramez Eskander—an Orange County surgeon and assistant clinical professor of gynecological oncology at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center published in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology—your tattoos could set off some false cancer alarms within PET scans.
In Eskander’s study, he sites a case in which he experienced this with one of his patients—a 32-year-old heavily tattooed mother of four who had previously been diagnosed with cervical cancer. Dr. Eskander was conducting a PET scan on his patient to see if her cancer had spread, and according to the scan, it looked like it had. A PET scan requires patients to receive an injection of a radioactive tracer that makes tumors appear as bright spots on the scan. When Eskander conducted this scan on his patient, bright spots appeared on the patient’s lymph nodes in her pelvis.
“Those lymph nodes that were lighting up brightly on the PET scan were doing so because of the tattoo pigment that was in the lymph nodes,” Eskander explains. The patient in the study had more than a dozen tattoos, several of them on her legs and thighs.
However, it wasn’t until after surgery that removed the patient’s uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and pelvic lymph nodes, that the doctors were able to examine the cells and determine that the bright spots were in fact the tattoo pigment and not cancer. This occurrence has been reported before in patients with breast cancer and melanoma, but this is the first case reported in a patient with cervical cancer.
“What we wanted to do was educate physicians, patient, families, “ Eskander says in an interview with CBS. “When there’s a PET scan that shows bright lymph nodes, if the patient has significant tattoos or body art, then you have to be cognizant that these could be false positives.”