Tattoo Artists Can Get Under Skin to Detect Cancer

Tattoo Artists Can Get Under Skin to Detect Cancer

Tattoo artists may want to keep an eye out for funny looking skin. These rashes, lesions, or moles may be the first signs that their clients have advanced skin cancer.

The problem is that most tattoo artists have not been properly schooled to recognize some of these potentially harmful skin conditions, researchers say. If they had been, more body artists might encourage their clients to seek treatment from a dermatologist and actually play a role in reducing skin cancers.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh say that less than 30 percent of tattoo artists have suggested that their client see a dermatologist for evaluation after suspecting a malicious lesion. Yet, to their credit, more than half – 55 percent -- of the 42 tattoo artists questioned in the study said they have refused to proceed with a body image after detecting a suspicious skin condition including rashes, lesions or spots on a client.

When asked why they declined to tattoo skin in these cases, 50 percent said they were concerned about the final appearance of the body art, while 29 percent said they were concerned about skin cancer. Another 19 percent said they were concerned about bleeding in their client's mole.

The researchers found that tattoo artists typically don't have a standard way of dealing with the moles that they may see on their clients. And, contrary to what doctors would recommend, many will draw over or around a mole depending on the client’s request.

"Our study highlights an opportunity for dermatologists to educate tattoo artists about skin cancer, particularly melanoma, to help reduce the incidence of skin cancers hidden in tattoos," the researchers wrote in the journal JAMA Dermatology. "There has been a significant rise in melanoma incidence among young adults, some of the most frequent tattoo customers, making surveillance by tattoo artists especially important."

Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer. Earliest signs are often change to an existing mole in size, shape or color, according to the National Institutes of Health. Early detection of melanoma can be treated, but more advanced malignancies can be fatal.

Picture shows Abnormal (left) vs. Normal (right) blemishes.

At least one in five adults in the United States has one or more tattoos, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only 17 percent of the tattoo artists reported that they received regular skin exams. Another 7 percent said they had a skin biopsy and slightly more than 2 percent had a cancer diagnosis themselves or knew of someone who had.

As artists who care about the wellbeing of customers, it is important to point out any suspicious moles or skin irregularities. One way to approach this is to ask every client if they regularly see a dermatologist. If they do, you can suggest that they consult their doctor regarding anything you find during the sitting.

If they do not already have their own dermatologist, have some business cards, or flyers, available to give them. Customers will be grateful for the information and appreciate your concern. Contact local dermatology centers and discuss this with them. They will be happy for the referrals and may have some form of "referral compensation reward" system already in place. If not, help them come up with one - after all, you are both in the skin business.

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