When doctors found lumps and enlarged lymph nodes under an Australian woman’s arms, they began testing for cancer. They suspected that they 30-year-old had lymphoma, but when the tests came back, they were baffled. The unusual case was recently described in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal.
When doctors looked closer, they found that the enlarged lymph nodes were not due to lymphoma. They were caused by an immune system reaction to black pigment from a tattoo the woman had for the past 15 years.
Dr. Christian Bryant, a hematologist at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, worked on the case. He said, “Nine times out of ten, [this] will be lymphoma.” Dr. Bryant said that he and his colleagues had never seen anything like it. He added that in other cases, swollen and pigmented lymph nodes have been mistaken for melanoma. But this was the first time his team had come across a case where the lymph nodes were deep enough to possibly be lymphoma.
When the doctors removed a lymph node from the woman’s armpit, they found a cluster of cells filled with black pigment. Doctors are left baffled by what triggered the bad reaction 15 years after the woman had the tattoo done.
After removing the cells, the swelling in the woman’s lymph nodes subsided without any major problems. Dr. Bryant added, “I think there’s absolutely no way to know how common it is.”
It is known that particles from tattoo pigment may end up in the lymph nodes, but this is the first known case of a tattoo causing a reaction in the lymph nodes, but no reaction in the skin. The doctors wrote, “We believe that this case highlights the importance of careful tattoo history and physical examination.”