A new study claims that they might – but not as we imagined.
“I always assumed that tattoos caused cancer in the short term. I figured that if I had anything tattooed, it was probably bad for my health,” Dr. John Giannapoulos, associate professor in medical epidemiology at George Washington University told the BBC.
“People have a misconception that they are more susceptible to developing cancer while under the tattoo,” he added. “If I were to be tattooed a million times, I just wouldn’t be able to get cancer.”
However, a new study from the U.K. suggests that tattoos do not appear to harm young people’s life chances. The study looked at health outcomes in 8,566 men whose last tattoo was in 1982. Researchers used data on cancer at diagnosis and subsequent mortality for the following 10 years.
In the first eight years after being tattooed, deaths from skin cancer were about four times as common as those from other causes. In the subsequent eight years after being tattooed, the numbers were about four times as common, the study found. But a follow-up examination after one year to see whether the cancers had recurred showed no risk of such a recurrence in those who were still under the ink.
The study’s findings come after new evidence suggests that some types of tattoos are linked to early death. A case-control study by British researchers found that while no statistically significant association between tattooing and early death could be found, tattoos appeared to cause more frequent heart attacks than other skin diseases.
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But the study’s authors say that most researchers are still left with questions about whether tattoos are as harmful to health as they are supposed to be.
“We know from the research literature that the vast majority of people who have any tattoos get fewer or no cancer problems than people who don’t have any tattoos,” Dr. Andrew Whitehouse, an epidemiologist at the Cardiff University School of Public Health, told the BBC. “There are a lot of potential questions about just whether certain kinds of tattoos are really bad. These are questions that can be asked with a lot of confidence without really testing it scientifically.”
Some research has suggested such concerns may be justified for certain kinds of tattoos. However, experts say more thorough studies before anyone jumps to a conclusion and recommends a tattoo are needed for such studies to reach a better conclusion.
“All studies on this topic have a margin of error —
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