The number of cancer-in-tattoo case reports in the medical literature is extremely low, technicians may be tempted to make assumptions about the statistics, in this article we compare the statistics to what might be expected on a random basis.
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In 2013 the First International Conference on Tattoo Safety was held in Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung Berlin and Nicolas Kluger M.D. from University of Helsinki Finland described how he and his colleague Virve Koljonen had extensively reviewed the literature and found only 50 published cases of skin cancer within tattoos1. Their findings were published in Lancet Oncology in 20122;
When discussing the low case report statistics for cancer-in-tattoos casual comparisons are sometimes drawn between the case report statistics and the prevalence of tattooing or the annual incidence of skin cancers as evidence of an absence of correlation. Our immediate impression is that the broad assumptions being drawn from such a small dataset of cancer-in-tattoo case reports is extraordinary especially given that the case report statistics are obviously anomalous, however as yet this does not seem to be a central focus within the discussion.
Official tattoo related statistics may exist somewhere but nonetheless we were unable to locate any official data related to the incidence of skin cancers within tattoos. The assumptions about the actual incidence of Carcinomas in Tattoos appear to be primarily based upon case reports within the medical literature and the anecdotal patient experience of individual practitioners.
Over a 40 year period this could equate to a total of between 63,960 - 313,200 expected skin cancers of all types within tattoos on a random distribution basis.
However even if our estimates were erroneous by a factor of 100 the expected number of cancer-in-tattoo cases would still be dramatically different to the 50 case reports within the medical literature over a 40 year period.
Within the publication Micropigmentation Millennium the authors caution against tattooing over moles and other skin lesions due to the risk of masking cancerous changes in the lesion potentially making visual diagnosis more difficult for the clients treating doctors33.
Special thanks to Dr. Linda Dixon and Dr. Charles Zwerling for pre publication academic feedback.
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