New invisible tattoos could be used in breast cancer radiotherapy

A new study presented yesterday at the National Cancer Research Institute’s Cancer Conference suggests that an alternative way of marking the areas breast cancer radiation needs to target could be more effective and boost women’s self-esteem.

Currently, women undergoing the treatment are tattooed with small black dots to make sure radiotherapy treatment is used in the exact same place each time. The dots are small, but unsurprisingly, remind patients of what they’ve been through on a daily basis, and this can have a negative impact on self-esteem and body confidence.

But researchers at The Royal Marsden Hospital in London found that invisible tattoos (made with a  fluorescent ink that’s only visible under UV light) could be an attractive alternative. They offered 21 women the chance to trial them while 21 other women had conventional ink tattoos. After treatment, they asked all the women how they felt about their bodies, and found that 56% of the women with fluorescent tattoos had positive things to say compared to 14% of their inked sisters. The fluorescent tattoos took a little longer to administer but had no effect on the radiation’s success rate.

While past research has understandably focused on the physical impact of cancer, if limiting the extent to which it changes women’s appearance can help them feel less ravaged by the disease, that can only be a good thing. Even more importantly, it could lead to more consistent treatment regardless of race: traditional ink dots can be harder to see on women of colour, meaning they might not always receive the same standard of care.

Professor Matt Seymour, clinical research director of the NCRI said, ‘With more than half of all cancer patients now surviving 10 years and beyond, it’s imperative that we do everything we can to reduce the long term impact of treatment on patients, including cosmetic changes.’


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