How One Woman’s Tattoos Convinced Her Doctors That She Had Cancer

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A cancer diagnosis can be one of the most devastating, life-altering things a person can possibly receive. But imagine being mistakenly told that your cancer is worsening and spreading rapidly when it actually isn’t.

This exact thing recently happened to one 32-year-old woman from California. Dr. Ramez Eskander, an Orange County surgeon, mistook her tattoos on a body image scan for secondary tumors, leading him to believe that her cervical cancer was spreading, according to the Inquisitr.

After removing her uterus, cervix, Fallopian tubes and pelvic lymph nodes, the unnamed mother of four was told that her pelvic lymph nodes were entirely free of cancer. They were, however, filled with something else: tattoo ink.

Shocked, Dr. Eskander revisited their patient's PET scan and realized the more than 14 tattoos covering their patient's legs and thighs corresponded with the bright spots that he initially thought indicated clusters of cancerous cells.
Shocked, Dr. Eskander revisited their patient’s PET scan and realized the more than 14 tattoos covering their patient’s legs and thighs corresponded with the bright spots that he initially thought indicated clusters of cancerous cells.

Shocked, Dr. Eskander revisited their patient’s PET scan and realized the more than 14 tattoos covering their patient’s legs and thighs corresponded with the bright spots that he initially thought indicated clusters of cancerous cells.

“When you tattoo, some of that ink will be absorbed in the cells in the lymphatic system and migrate to levels of lymph nodes,” Dr. Eskander told CBS News.

Eskander, who recently published his unusual story in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, said his patient’s story should serve an educational purpose to people who choose to get body art — as well as other doctors and surgeons who treat patients with cancer.

“What we wanted to do is educate physicians, patients, families,” he said. “When there is a PET scan that shows a bright lymph node, if a patient has significant tattoos or body art, than you have to be cognizant that these might be false positives.”

Despite Eskander’s gaffe, the woman would have had to undergo a hysterectomy anyway, given her cervical cancer. But because the cancer hadn’t spread as initially thought, she won’t have to undergo radiation treatment.

With one in five people in America now having one or more tattoos, perhaps it’s time for medical technology to catch up and prevent misidentifications like this from taking place again. For the moment, researchers are still trying to determine how much tattoo ink is needed to result in misdiagnosis from a PET scan.

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