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Is There A Connection Between Tattoos & Skin Cancer?

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Many studies have been done in recent years looking for a possible link between tattoos and skin cancer.

While they haven't found a direct connection, doctors still say, if you have a tattoo, keep a very close eye on it this coming summer.

Eighteen years ago, Melissa Sabatini chose to get a tattoo.

"It was something all my friends were getting done. We were on vacation, just seemed like the right thing to do at the time," Sabatini said.

What she didn't choose is what came along later -- a flat spot along the edge of the dark ink. The spot darkened over six months. She brought this up with her doctor - and subsequently had it removed.

"She said, 'Oh yeah, we have to take a look at that. That doesn't look good," Sabatini said. "Now that I'm a little bit older, and this is happening, I [kind of] do regret getting the tattoo now."

John Nasci had a similar experience.

"I noticed a little red mark after three or four years of having this tattoo," Nasci said. "He said. 'Let's look at that. Let's biopsy it.' He biopsied it. It went out, and in nine or 10 days they called me back with some news that I didn't want to hear."

Both were diagnosed with severely abnormal cells. A pre-cancer in Melissa's case. And in john's case - the deadly skin cancer melanoma.

Are these cases related to the tattoos themselves? Scientists have done a number of studies in recent years - none of which has found a direct correlation.

"There's never been a medical study showing an increased risk of skin cancer and tattoos," Dr. Brian Horvath from Horvath Dermatology said. "As recently as 2007, there are only 13 cases in the medical literature about melanoma skin cancer arising in tattoo."

So what is going on then?

Doctors said it's a combination of two things. One is that more young people are getting skin cancer in general.

"It is true that melanoma rates are increasing in young people, and more young people are getting tattoos. So, it's not surprising every now and then you'd see a skin cancer in a tattoo," Dr. Horvath said.

Secondly, darker pigments in some tattoos might mask problem areas in the skin. If someone doesn't notice them right away, that could lead to a late diagnosis.

"We want to catch them when they're very early, and sometimes the early changes are very subtle. And tattoo color can obscure those subtle, early changes that we're looking for," Dr. Horvath said.

Because of surgery, John has to get his tattoo repaired, which is a small price to pay in his mind.

"When something like this hits you, you change your thinking," he said.

Melissa agrees. She now keeps her tattoo covered and wears lots of sunscreen. Her doctor removed the growth, and her prognosis is good.

While melanomas in tattoos are purely coincidental, there are other skin conditions that can be traced directly, such as allergic reactions to the ink, skin infections and hepatitis.


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