This Woman's 15-Year-Old Tattoo Caused a Reaction Doctors Mistook for Cancer

person tattooing someone
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When it comes to being afraid to take the plunge and get a tattoo, it usually stems from something like realizing you don't actually like butterflies or your old boyfriend that much anymore. But one Australian woman probably regrets her tattoo for a completely different reason that most likely never crossed your mind: an inflammation that occurred many years later.

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The 30-year-old woman had recently noticed small lumps under her arms for about two weeks, according to CNN. So she went to the doctor and they gave her a body scan, which also showed that the lymph nodes near her lungs were enlarged as well.

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Her conditions, according to one of her doctors, Dr. Christian Bryant, had a 99 percent chance of being lymphoma, which is a cancer that starts in the immune system. 

So doctors went ahead and removed her swollen lymph node from her armpit, only to find that it actually wasn't cancerous, and instead contained clusters of cells colored with black pigment. It was a reaction from a 15-year-old tattoo on her back, which apparently itched from time to time.

What happened was that since immune cells live on and protect the skin, they most likely ingested the tattoo pigment over time, Dr. Bill Stebbins, director of cosmetic dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN. But the cell can't digest ink, so it went with them when they went back to the lymph nodes.

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tattoo artists holding needles
Todor Rusinov/Shutterstock

Why the inflammatory reaction to the ink was so delayed is still a mystery to her doctors, who claim to never have encountered this sort of tattoo complication before. (Usually tattoo complications occur almost immediately, and from allergic reactions to red ink, not black, or unreputable and dirty tattoo shops.)

Thankfully, since that removal, her lymph nodes have gone down and her doctors say she'll be just fine. However, her story serves as an important reminder that tattoo inflammations can occur many years after getting inked, so it's important to let your doctor know about your tattoo history (and yes, that includes the embarassing ones you impulsively got during spring break).
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