03 June 2024

Having a tattoo seems to be linked to a small increased risk of developing lymphoma, Swedish researchers have reported. However, they stress that the results do not imply causation, and need to be confirmed in larger studies.

According to the findings of the study, undertaken by scientists at Lund University, the size of the tattoo makes no difference to the size of the risk.

The conclusions come from a case-control study of 11,905 people, of whom 2,938 developed lymphoma between the ages of 20 and 60. 1,398 people with lymphoma answered a questionnaire, as did 4,193 people from a matched control group.

21% of those with lymphoma had tattoos compared with 18% of those in the control group. The researchers conclude, after taking other factors into account, that tattoos were linked to a 21% increased risk of developing lymphoma.

The researchers say that tattooing might trigger a low-grade inflammation. Tattoo ink often contains carcinogenic chemicals such as primary aromatic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and metals. The team point out that it is common to get tattoos while young, meaning people are exposed for a long period of their life.

The findings have been reported in EClinicalMedicine.

Study leader Dr Christel Nielsen said: “It is important to remember that lymphoma is a rare disease and that our results apply at the group level. The results now need to be verified and investigated further in other studies and such research is ongoing.”

Dr Nielsen added: “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.”



Nielsen C, Jerkeman M, Jöud AS. (2024) “Tattoos as a risk factor for malignant lymphoma: a population-based case–control study.” EClinicalMedicine, June 2024, doi: j.eclinm.2024.102649

Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589537024002281   

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