If you were considering getting a tattoo in the near future (like I was), this story might make you a bit more hesitant. A woman had all her reproductive organs removed because the ink from her tattoos made her doctors think her cervical cancer had spread.
This mother of four who’s only 32 years old was undergoing a PET/CT fusion scan of her reproductive organs so that her doctors could assess the state of her cervical cancer. What they found led them to believe that her cancer had spread significantly, and the only remedy for such metastasizing is a full hysterectomy.
The way this particular fusion scan works is they inject a radioactive tracer into you that makes any tumors appear as bright spots on the scan. However, what the doctors didn’t realize is the ink from the woman’s 14 tattoos would show up as bright spots as well when hit with the tracer. Thus what appeared to be cancer spreading into the lymphatic system was actually just migrating ink.
Dr. Ramez Eskander, one of the surgeons on her case, told CBS, “When you tattoo, some of that ink will be absorbed in the cells in the lymphatic system and migrate to levels of lymph nodes.” However, the surgeons didn’t consider that as a possibility before they decided to remove all her reproductive organs as a precaution, which included her uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and pelvic lymph nodes.
However, once they did a biopsy on the supposedly cancerous cells, they found that the bright spots they saw on the scan were in fact just traces of tattoo ink. Eskander was so struck by the false positive results that he decided to publish them in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. He hopes this unfortunate situation will help make others aware of the possibility of a misdiagnosis due to tattoo ink.
He told CBS, “What we wanted to do is educate physicians, patients, families. When there is a PET scan that shows a bright lymph node, if a patient has significant tattoos or body art, then you have to be cognizant that these might be false positives.”
Thankfully, there is a silver lining to this particular woman’s misdiagnosis. Upon further examination, they found that she actually had very small cancer cells in her pelvic lymph nodes. This is called “micrometastasis,” which means the cancer cells are too small to show up on a PET scan, but could easily grow to a harmful size. So while the initial diagnosis may have been incorrect, it turns out the woman’s full hysterectomy may have saved her life.
She’s now doing well in recovery, and because the cancer cells were so small and had not spread as they initially thought, she doesn’t need to undergo any radiation.