Leaving a mark: the frequency and accuracy of tattooing prior to laparoscopic colorectal surgery

Colorectal Dis. 2011 Oct;13(10):1184-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1463-1318.2010.02423.x.


Aim: Intra-operative localization of small cancers and polyps during laparoscopic colorectal surgery is difficult due to reduced tactile feedback. The consequences of failing to identify the lesion for resection can result in open conversion or removal of the wrong segment of bowel.

Method: Data were collected from a prospectively-kept database over a 12-month period from April 2008 to March 2009 and analysed retrospectively. Details concerning the documentation, visibility and accuracy of tattoos were recorded.

Results: Eighty-five patients (88 lesions) underwent laparoscopic resection for a benign or malignant colorectal tumour during 1 year from April 2008. Eighty-one patients underwent endoscopic visualization of the tumour as a first or second procedure. Of these 81 patients, 83 lesions were visualized endoscopically and 54 (65.1%) were tattooed in 52 patients. In the 52 patients, 36 (69%) of the tattoos were carried out on the first endoscopy. At operation the tattoo was judged to be visible and accurate in 70%, visible but inaccurate in 7% and not visible in 15%. It was significantly easier to see the tattoo in women (19/21 women vs 21/29 men; P=0.03) but there was no relationship between tattoo visibility and BMI. An accurate tattoo did not reduce the conversion rate (P=0.71). No tattoo-related complications were encountered.

Conclusion: The practice of tattooing colorectal cancers is variable in frequency, technique and accuracy. We advocate that all colonic lesions suspicious for cancer should be tattooed during endoscopy at a defined distance below the tumour, adhering to a departmental protocol in case surgery is required.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Colonoscopy*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laparoscopy*
  • Male
  • Preoperative Care
  • Tattooing*