Tattoos, inks, and cancer

Lancet Oncol. 2012 Apr;13(4):e161-8. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(11)70340-0. Epub 2012 Mar 30.


The introduction in the dermis of exogenous pigments and dyes to obtain a permanent design (tattooing) represents a unique in-vivo situation, where a large amount of metallic salts and organic dyes remain in the skin for the lifetime of the bearer. The potential local and systemic carcinogenic effects of tattoos and tattoo inks remain unclear. Several studies have shed light on the presence of potential carcinogenic or procarcinogenic products in tattoo inks. We extensively reviewed the literature and found 50 cases of skin cancer on tattoos: 23 cases of squamous-cell carcinoma and keratoacanthoma, 16 cases of melanoma, and 11 cases of basal-cell carcinoma. The number of skin cancers arising in tattoos is seemingly low, and this association has to be considered thus far as coincidental.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / chemically induced
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / chemically induced
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology
  • Coloring Agents / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ink*
  • Keratoacanthoma / chemically induced
  • Keratoacanthoma / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Melanoma / chemically induced
  • Melanoma / epidemiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Tattooing / adverse effects*


  • Coloring Agents