Are Tattoos Linked to a Heightened Risk of Lymphoma?

Get Permission

Tattoos may be a risk factor in the development of lymphoma, according to a recent study published by Nielsen et al in eClinicalMedicine.


A majority of individuals receive their first tattoos at a young age, exposing them to tattoo ink for a larger portion of their lives. The long-term health effects of tattoos are currently not well understood and poorly researched.

“We already know that when the tattoo ink is injected into the skin, the body interprets this as something foreign that should not be there, and the immune system is activated. A large part of the ink is transported away from the skin to the lymph nodes where it is deposited,” explained lead study author Christel Nielsen, PhD, a researcher at Lund University in Sweden.

Study Methods and Results

In the recent study, the researchers asked 11,905 patients with lymphoma and controls to complete a questionnaire. In total, they identified 2,938 patients aged 20 to 60 years with lymphoma. The researchers noted that 1,398 of the patients with lymphoma and 4,193 controls responded to the questionnaire.

“We have identified [patients] diagnosed with lymphoma via population registers [who] were then matched with a control group of the same sex and age, but without lymphoma. The study participants answered a questionnaire about lifestyle factors to determine whether they were tattooed or not,” Dr. Nielsen stated. The researchers reported that 21% (n = 289) and 18% (n = 735) of the patients with lymphoma and controls had received tattoos, respectively.

“After taking into account other relevant factors such as smoking and age, we found that the risk of developing lymphoma was 21% higher among those who were tattooed,” stressed Dr. Nielsen.

The researchers initially hypothesized that the size of the tattoos would affect the risk of lymphoma. For instance, a full-body tattoo might be associated with a greater risk of lymphoma compared with a small tattoo. However, the area of the tattooed body surface was not correlated with lymphoma risk.

“We do not yet know why this was the case. [We] can only speculate that a tattoo, regardless of size, triggers a low-grade inflammation in the body, which in turn can trigger cancer. The picture is thus more complex than we initially thought,” Dr. Nielsen suggested.


“It is important to remember that lymphoma is a rare disease and that our results apply at the group level. The results now need to be verified and investigated further in other studies, and such research is ongoing,” Dr. Nielsen emphasized.

The researchers underlined the need for more research on the long-term health effects of tattoos. They plan to assess whether there are any associations between tattoos and other cancer types or inflammatory diseases.

“People will likely want to continue to express their identity through tattoos, and therefore, it is very important that we, as a society, can make sure that it is safe. For the individual, it is good to know that tattoos can affect your health, and that you should turn to your health-care provider if you experience symptoms that you believe could be related to your tattoo,” Dr. Nielsen concluded.

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.