It seems today most people obtaining tattoos are more concerned about the quality of the tattoo and the effect of aging altering the tattoo, than any potential long term health risks. The health dangers associated with being injected by hundreds of needles into the dermis or the inner layer of the skin are widely publicised and most tattoo artists take these issues very seriously. We have all heard about Aids and Hep C, but are you aware of the current debate on the possible skin cancer risks associated with tattoo inks?
Recent years have seen an increase in stories associated with the potential of getting Skin cancer from tattoo inks. Limited studies taken to date have not confirmed a direct link between cancer and tattoo inks..
Phthalates and other chemical ingredients used in tattoo inks have raised questions about the long term risks on our health such as skin cancer.It has been reported that some forms of phthalates are believed to have the potential to disrupt testosterone or mimic estrogen. Phthalate exposure has been identified to possible sperm defects and altered thyroid hormones. The phthalates in tattoo inks are believed to be cleared from the body within hours unlike many other forms of phthalate exposure. A study reported that Phthalates applied to the skin in a lotion were absorbed and metabolised and the same thing is likely to happen with the phthalates in tattoo inks. It would be well advised for pregnant and nursing women to avoid any exposure to phthalates.
Injecting tattoo inks, containing exogenous pigments, into the dermis creates a unique situation, due to the large amount of metallic salts and organic dyes remain in the skin for a lifetime. The potential carcinogenic risks of tattoo inks remain debatable. Several studies have identified the presence of potential carcinogenic or procarcinogenic products in tattoo inks.One chemical commonly used in black tattoo ink called benzo(a)pyrene is known to be a potent carcinogen that causes skin cancer in animal tests. As tattooing injects inks such asbenzo(a)pyrene directly into the dermis damaging the skin. You could conclude it may contribute to skin cancer.
Scientists and health professionals continue to debate the possible link between tattoo inks and cancer. In the last forty years there have only been 50 documented cases of squamous cell carcinoma, malignant skin melanoma or basal cell carcinoma with possible connections to tattoos, compared to the millions of tattoos obtained. Epidemiological studies on the effects of tattoo ink could be taken, although they would not be easy. A large number of tattooed people would have to be monitored over a long period of time to see whether they developed problems such as skin cancer near their tattoos. The low number of reported skin cancers arising in tattoos could be considered coincidental.
Further in depth studies will need to be carried out to give more conclusive evidence on the effects of tattoo ink and the cancer risks associated. The FDA is growing more concerned about the ingredients in tattoo ink. In the early 2000’s, the FDA received a large number of complaints associated with giving and receiving tattoos. Since then the FDA has commenced more research into the chemical components of tattoo inks. The FDA is investigating how the body breaks down the tattoo ink as it fades over time. Is the body absorbing the ink or is it fading from sun exposure? A common pigment in yellow tattoo inks, Pigment Yellow 74, is believed to be a risk of being broken down by the body.
When skin cells containing tattoo inks are killed by sunlight or laser light, the tattoo inks break down and could possibly spread throughout the body. It is believed that tattoo inks could spread into lymph nodes whether this has unknown health concerns or not is still unknown. Our lymph nodes filtering out disease-causing organisms any interference in that process could have devastating effects on our health.
It is recommended not to have a tattoo placed too close to a mole. Changes occurring in a mole such as asymmetry, border, color, size, shape, texture are all warning signs of a possible melanoma or another skin cancer. Ensure all moles are left completely visible to prevent possible delays in detecting any changes. When a melanoma is discovered early it is usually curable where as more advanced melanomas are far harder to cure. A tattoo covering a mole could delay detection and be extremely dangerous even life threatening. If you get a tattoo, make sure it is placed a good distance from any mole. This is especially important for people who have multiple moles or dysplastic nevus (atypical mole) syndrome, due to the increased risk of developing melanoma, potentially within one of their moles.
It’s imperative to be extremely diligent in caring for our skin correctly after a tattoo and monitor any changes that may occur to the skin. Our skin is the largest organ of the body and has many important functions. It protective us against injury and disease, regulates our temperature and maintains our bodies hydration. There are three layers to our skin the first layers is the epidermis the outer layer of the skin. The second layer is the dermis or the inner layer and the third layer is the subcutaneous fat layer.
Cancer is a disease of the body’s cells. Normally the body’s cells grow and divide in an orderly fashion. Some cells may grow and divide abnormally growing into a lump, a tumour. Tumours can be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Benign tumours do not spread to other parts of the body. Cancer cells in a malignant tumour have the ability to spread to over areas in the body, if left untreated. These cells can destroy surrounding tissue and break away from the original cancer, affecting other organs in the body. These cells can then form another tumour referred to as a secondary cancer.
Skin cancer begins in the basal layer of the epidermis. There are three main types of skin cancer basal cell carcinoma; squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Melanomas start in the pigment cells while basal and squamous cell carcinomas develop from the epidermal cells. Basal cell carcinomas are the most common but least dangerous type of skin cancer. They grow slowly but if left untreated, a deep ulcer can occur. Fortunately they very rarely spread to other parts of the body. Basal cell carcinomas are most commonly found on the face, neck and upper trunk. They appear as a lump or scaly area and are pale, pearly or red in colour. Squamous cell carcinomas are less common but more dangerous. They typically grow over a period of weeks to months. These cancers may spread to other parts of the body if not treated immediately. Squamous cell carcinomas appear on areas of skin most often exposed to the sun. They have scaling, red areas which may bleed easily and ulcerate, looking like an unhealing sore. The major cause of these skin cancers is sun exposure for years. Melanoma is the rarest but most dangerous skin cancer. It is often a fast growing cancer which if left untreated can spread quickly to other parts of the body to form secondary cancers. Melanomas can appear anywhere on the body. The first sign of a melanoma is usually a change in a freckle or mole, or the appearance of a new spot. Changes in size, shape or colour are normally seen over a period of several weeks to months. Melanoma typically appears from adolescence onwards, most commonly seen between 30 and 50 years of age.
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* Board Certified Dermatologist Dr. Timothy Jochen of Contour Dermatology http://contourderm.com/medical-dermatology/ discusses the unique challenges of detecting skin cancer on a person with tattoos, especially as black is the most popular color for tattoos and melanoma can present as a black spot. He recommends that people have a thorough skin check before getting a tattoo and have their skin checked periodically afterward. He also cautions people to avoid getting a tattoo near a mole.
Skin Cancer and Tattoos – Dr. Jochen Interview on CBS Local 2 | Palm Desert | Palm Springs