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Bispebjerg Hospital - a part of Copenhagen University Hospital

Search for Internal Cancers in Mice Tattooed with Inks of High Contents of Potential Carcinogens: A One-Year Autopsy Study of Red and Black Tattoo Inks Banned in the Market

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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Tattoo ink stock products often contain potential carcinogens, which on large-scale population exposure may be clinically relevant. The aim of this autopsy study in mice was to screen major organs for clinical and subclinical cancers.

METHODS: Mice were tattooed on their backs. In total, 48 mice were included and divided into 4 groups; 11 mice tattooed black, 10 tattooed red, and 5 mice serving as untreated controls. A group of 22 mice with black tattoos and exposed to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) were also studied. The black and red inks were both stock products banned on the Danish market due to the measured contents of potential carcinogens; benzo(a)pyrene and 2-anisidine, respectively. The mice were housed for 1 year after tattooing, and autopsy study on internal organs was performed. Tissue samples were systematically taken from major organs for screening of subclinical changes, not detected by visual examination. Any observed deviation from normal structure was subject to biopsy and light microscopy.

RESULTS: All mice survived the 1-year observation period. Autopsy revealed no macroscopic signs of cancer. Microscopic search of internal organs showed no subclinical or clinical cancer.

CONCLUSION: Despite extensive tattoos with 2 banned inks, the long-term observation in mice showed no internal cancers nor was the combination of carcinogen and UVR associated with cancer. Lack of observed malignancy might be explained by the fact that tattooing is only a single dose exposure. Registered data on carcinogens relies on repeated or chronic exposures. The study does not support the hypothesis that tattooing causes cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)94-99
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2017

    Research areas

  • Journal Article

ID: 52399538