An unidentified 32-year-old woman from California had been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
In November 2012, her doctors requested an imaging scan to check to see if the cancer had spread (metastasized) to other parts of her body, Live Science reported.
The type of scan the doctors wanted was a PET/CT fusion scan, which combines technology from both PET and CT scans, and requires that patients receive an injection of a radioactive tracer that makes tumors appear as bright spots on the scan.
During the full-body image scan, the woman lit up, leading doctors to believe that the bright areas in her lymph nodes suggested that her cancer had spread.
It wasn’t until the mother of four, who had more than 14 tattoos on her legs, had her uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and pelvic lymph nodes removed that doctors realized the bright spots in her tests were deposits of tattoo ink, not cancer.
“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,” said researcher Dr. Ramez Eskander, who treated the woman.
The scan’s findings did not change the doctors’ original surgical plan, which called for the removal of the same organs, and the cancer-free woman has since recovered well, Eskander said.
But he warned surgeons to be aware that tattoos could affect scans and ultimately treatment strategies.
“Findings of possible metastatic disease on PET scans can certainly change management,” Eskander said.
“We want to make sure that people understand that these false positives could potentially arise in patients that have tattoos.”
Her case was published Monday in the journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.