Laser Tattoo Removal and Melanoma

At The UnTattoo Parlor, we are frequently asked how the process of tattoo removal can either help or hurt screening for Melanoma.

What is Melanoma and how can we get it?

Melanoma is commonly thought of as a pigmented lesion of the skin that can result in disfiguring excisions, metastatic disease, and on occasion death. Many may not know that melanoma can also occur on mucosal surfaces such as the intestines and even in the eyes. Risk factors for melanoma include fair skin, a history of sun exposure (for example severe sunburns in childhood), a family history of melanoma, and rare genetic disorders such as xeroderma pigmentosum. Melanomas can also appear on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet (some may know that Bob Marley died of melanoma that originated on the sole of his foot).

A diagnosis of melanoma can only be made by obtaining tissue that can then be examined by a pathologist. The prognosis or expected long-term outcome of melanoma is directly related to the depth that the malignant melanoma invades the dermis. The deeper the invasion the more likely for metastasis and a poor outcome. As with any malignancy the earlier the diagnosis the better the prognosis.

If I have had or think I might have Melanoma, is it safe to undergo laser tattoo removal?

Individuals diagnosed with Melanoma in the past or think you may have Melanoma it is best to consult with a licensed dermatologist before undergoing laser tattoo removal. The laser used to treat tattoo pigment also has the potential to lighten pigmented lesions which can sometimes indicate the presence of Melanoma. If your doctor cannot see the Melanoma it can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages when the survival rate is highest. If you are at high risk for Melanoma many doctors will recommend that you hold off on getting tattooed. If you already have tattoos, the safest course of action is to keep your tattoos and get regular check-ups from a physician trained in melanoma screening. Dermoscopy and photo mapping are often used to screen and follow patients at risk for melanoma.

Melanoma self-screening Guide

A – Asymmetrical Shape
Melanoma lesions are often irregular, or not symmetrical, in shape. Benign moles are usually symmetrical.

B – Border
Typically, non-cancerous moles have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.

C – Color
The presence of more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color can sometimes be a warning sign of melanoma. Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan.

D – Diameter
Melanoma lesions are often greater than 6 millimeters in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser).

If you exhibit any of the above signs consult a physician right away. See the links below for more information:

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-melanoma/index

http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/ask-the-experts/are-there-skin-risks-associated-with-tattoos

http://www.nccn.org/patients/guidelines/melanoma/

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/tattoos-moles-and-melanoma-201308056578