Tattoos, inks, and cancer.
Kluger N1, Koljonen V.
The introduction in the dermis of exogenous pigments and dyes to obtain a permanent design (tattooing) represents a unique in-vivo situation, where a large amount of metallic salts and organic dyes remain in the skin for the lifetime of the bearer. The potential local and systemic carcinogenic effects of tattoos and tattoo inks remain unclear. Several studies have shed light on the presence of potential carcinogenic or procarcinogenic products in tattoo inks. We extensively reviewed the literature and found 50 cases of skin cancer on tattoos: 23 cases of squamous-cell carcinoma and keratoacanthoma, 16 cases of melanoma, and 11 cases of basal-cell carcinoma. The number of skin cancers arising in tattoos is seemingly low, and this association has to be considered thus far as coincidental.
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The injected pigment is detected by the immune system as intrusive material and consequently is absorbed by phagocytes. Later on, the damaged epidermis falls apart and the surface pigment is vanished. In the dermis, granulation takes place and connective tissue is formed. Therefore, the implemented dye is trapped within fibroblasts, resulting in an increased concentration inside of the layer just below the epidermis-dermis boundary. Despite the fact that exogenous pigment in this area is quite stable, within decades it still tends to shift deeper into the dermis.