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Tattoo Ink and Lymphoma Linked

Time to cry of over spilled ink?

Tattoos have long been associated with a higher risk of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV, but lymphoma isn’t usually the first condition to spring to mind when discussing body art. Nevertheless, it’s a risk to be aware of, according to a new study from Lund University in Sweden. Researchers suggest that tattoo ink can build up in lymph nodes and increase the risk of lymphoma by 21%; this risk may be significantly higher during the first two years of getting a tattoo – as high as 81%.

Data for Lund University’s study came from the Swedish National Cancer Register and a detailed questionnaire completed by nearly 12,000 participants. Of the participants, 2,938 had lymphoma.

While this is not the best news for the tattooed, it’s important to keep the numbers in perspective. Lymphoma isn’t a common cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that only 4% of new cancer cases in 2024 will be non-Hodgkin lymphoma and just 0.4% will be Hodgkins lymphoma.

Risky Business

So, how many people are at risk? More than you may realize – and equally distributed across party lines. Regardless of political affiliation, at least 32% of Americans have one tattoo, and 22% have more than one, according to Pew Research.

While the size of a tattoo doesn’t appear to affect the risk of lymphoma, based on this study, the number of tattoos may increase risk through repeated exposure to ink and repeated inflammatory response.

Keep in mind that tattoos aren’t the only things that may lead to lymphoma. Additional risk factors are:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Weakened immune system
  • Infections such as HIV and Epstein-Barr

As with any disease, individual and family medical histories also play a role.

Tattoo and the Times

According to Pew Research, “adults under 50 are especially likely to have a tattoo. Some 41% of those under 30 have at least one, as do 46% of those ages 30 to 49.” This number drops significantly for those over age 50. With the apparent rush for youngsters to get tattooed as soon as they are legally able – and in many cases, even before that – one might expect a significant increase in lymphoma cases in the years ahead.

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