According to a recent Harris poll, about one in five adults now has at least one tattoo. Others estimate that the number is even higher.
At the same time that the number of people getting tattoos has apparently increased, so has the demand for their removal. The laser removal business is said to be booming. According to the CEO of one of the companies that markets a laser tattoo removal device, 20 percent of the 45 million Americans with tattoos have regrets about getting them.
This sudden increase in requests for tattoo removal has brought the issue of hidden skin cancers to the attention of health experts around the world.
A case report recently published in JAMA Dermatology Clinicians from Germany details a 29 year old white man whose malignant melanoma had developed on a nevus (birthmark/mole) within a tattoo that covered most of his chest and arms. It was only discovered because he came to the clinic to have the tattoo laser removed.
Based on this case as well as at least 16 other similar cases in the medical literature, lead author Laura Pohl, MD, of Laserklinik Karlsruhe, Germany, recommends that tattoos never be placed over a mole or birthmark because the ink acts as a camouflage and about half of all melanomas develop in pre-existing moles.
Additionally Poul suggests that doctors do a thorough skin examination before using a laser to remove a tattoo. Any suspicious looking moles or birthmarks should be excised and sent for pathology before dealing with the tattoo.
Bottom line: think twice before getting a tattoo (they are expensive, painful and meant to be permanent) and if you decide to get one, have a dermatologist do a thorough skin exam before you do to be sure not to ink over a pre-existing pigmented area.