Doctors Accidentally Remove Woman’s Uterus Because of Her Tattoos

surgical instruments in kidney tray

The hysterectomy is a surgical procedure that removes the uterus to treat a myriad of different medical issues, including uterine fibroids and some types of cancer. Unfortunately, a recent study from Michigan University found that as many as one in five hysterectomies are performed needlessly. Researchers found that the main reason so many uteri are being unnecessarily removed is because doctors are underutilizing alternative treatments.

One woman, however, recently underwent a hysterectomy because of her tattoos.

A 32-year-old California mother of four received a PET/CT fusion scan, which injects patients with a radioactive tracer that makes tumors show up as bright spots. When the scan lit up, doctors thought the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. In actuality, it was the ink from her tattoos that they were seeing.

After the salpingectomy and regional lymph node dissection removed her uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and pelvic lymph nodes, the doctors inspected the “cancerous” cells, and found that they were actually just deposits of tattoo ink from her 14 leg tattoos.

“When you tattoo, some of that ink will be absorbed in the cells in the lymphatic system and migrate to levels of lymph nodes,” surgeon Dr. Ramez Eskander told CBS.

Fortunately, the patient’s case did actually call for surgery, even though it was her tattoos that mistakenly prompted surgeons to act. After examining the excised cells, doctors found that she’d had a small number of cancer cells in one of her pelvic lymph nodes, a condition called “micrometastasis,” that were too small to show up in a PET scan.

Eskander recently published the findings in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, hoping that the case would serve as a warning of the dangers of misdiagnosis. According to Medscape, this is the first case of tattoo ink migrating to the lymph nodes of a cervical cancer patient, but it’s not a novel concept in oncology. As for the patient, she’s doing well, and shows no signs of cancer recurrence.

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