Woman Who Was Told She Had a ‘Cancerous Tumor’ Really Had a Delayed Reaction to a Tattoo

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Doctors in Australia stumbled upon an interesting medical case, when a 30-year old woman sought medical care after finding lumps in her armpits. Fearing the lumps could be indicative of a cancerous tumor, doctors removed a lymph node from her armpit. What they discovered was far less serious, but way more weird.

The “cancerous tumor” turned out to be a cluster of cells full of black pigment. The woman apparently had a hypersensitivity to black tattoo ink.

cancerous tumor

Image: Annals of Internal Medicine

The woman had not gotten a recent tattoo. However, she had a 15-year old tattoo on her back, and one on her shoulder blade that was 2.5 years old.

Image: Giphy

In this case, it appears as though immune cells in the woman’s skin ingested the ink. Those cells then traveled from the skin to the lymph nodes over the years. The collection of old ink caused the nodes to become swollen. Dr. Bill Stebbins is the director of cosmetic dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He was not involved in this case, but tells CNN, “The pigment is too large for these cells to eat and digest. That’s why they’re still there many years later.”

Doctors are unable to know for certain what caused the reaction so many years later.

According to the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the woman said her tattoos would occasionally itch, but nothing that would be cause for alarm. Allergic reactions to tattoo ink aren’t exactly uncommon, but the reactions are usually brought on by red ink, not black. In any case, it’s important for people to be aware of potential complications from tattoos, however rare they may be.

Dr. Stebbins says it’s also important that people share their tattoo history with their doctors, in case a complication does arise.

Luckily for the Australian woman, her reaction ended up being far less serious, and she should suffer no lasting effects from the ink tumor. Dr. Christian Bryant, a hematologist who was one of the woman’s doctors, told CNN that the swelling in her lymph nodes had subsided the last time he saw her. We’re sure the woman was beyond relieved, and probably sufficiently grossed out.

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(Image: iStock / Belyjmishka)