California Woman’s Tattoos Mistaken For Cancer On Body Scan, Doctors Realize Error After Surgery

Doctors removed a California woman’s uterus, cervix, Fallopian tubes, and pelvic lymph nodes after a body imaging scan led them to believe that her cervical cancer was spreading. After the surgery, the woman’s pelvic lymph nodes were sent to a lab for testing, and despite lighting up on the PET scan, they were free of cancer. Testing showed that the nodes were, however, filled with another unusual substance — tattoo ink. The tattoo ink had been absorbed in the cells in the lymphatic system from the more than 14 tattoos covering her legs and thighs. The ink deposits mimicked cancer on the PET scan, which resulted in the incorrect diagnosis that the cancer was spreading rapidly.

LiveScience reports that an unidentified 32-year-old woman from California and mother-of-four was diagnosed with cervical cancer. After the diagnosis, doctors ordered a body imaging scan to determine if the cancer had spread to other regions of the body. When the scan was performed, the woman’s pelvic lymph nodes lit up brightly on the test, which indicates the cancer was spreading. Therefore, doctors took a swift course of action to put a stop to the spread and removed the woman’s uterus, cervix, Fallopian tubes, and pelvic lymph nodes.

This isn’t the first time that tattoo ink has caused false positive cancer readings in PET scans. However, Dr. Ramez Eskander, assistant clinical professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of California, which treated the patient, wrote about the rare incident in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology on June 8 in a bid to inform other doctors of this problem that can occur in tattooed patients.

“Those lymph nodes that were lighting up brightly on the PET scan were doing so because of the tattoo pigment that was in the lymph nodes. There have previously been reports of tattoo ink spreading to people’s lymph nodes and showing up on PET scans in patients with other cancers, including breast cancerand melanoma. But this appears to be the first case reported in a patient with cervical cancer. Findings of possible metastatic disease on PET scans can certainly change management. We want to make sure that people understand that these false positives could potentially arise in patients that have tattoo.”

Did you know that tattoo ink could be absorbed into the lymphatic system and give false positive cancer readings?

[Image Credit: Dr. Ramez Eskander/ CBS]