AUSTRALIA - Doctors in Australia suspected a 30-year-old woman to have lymphoma - a cancer of the lymphatic system - but after operation, they found her symptoms were caused by something completely different. Her enlarged lymph nodes were from a reaction to a 15-year-old tattoo.
The case was detailed in a new paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The woman reported that she had small lumps under her arms that had been noticeable for two weeks. According to the report, "she had no fever, night sweats, weight loss, or pulmonary symptoms."
After several scans, the doctors suspected her to have lymphoma, a cancer that affects the immune system.
After they removed a swollen lymph node from her under arm, they found it was enlarged because it was filled with black pigment—not from cancer cells.
The doctors concluded that she likely had a hypersensitive reaction to a 15-year-old tattoo on her back.
"The lymph system helps to filter our blood and helps to identify infections so our immune system can react and fight the infection, but they filter lots of other things, too, and in this case, they were filtering the pigment," Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, told CBS News. Piliang was not associated with the case report.
The woman had two tattoos - a large black tattoo on her back, that had been there for fifteen years, and another on her shoulder that was two-and-a-half years old.
Doctors believe that since the swelling occurred in both armpits, the tattoo on her back is what caused the complications; however, it is still a mystery as to why it took so long for her to have a reaction.
Piliang said these instances are rare.
"What's much more common is allergic reactions to tattoos in the skin," she said. Infections are also common. It is important to do research before choosing a place to get a tattoo to ensure all safety regulations are met.
"It's important that you go to a professional tattoo artist," she said, "somebody who runs a clean and reputable business who follows sterile procedures and understands what that means."