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Do tattoos cause cancer? Before you get inked, see these do's and don'ts

Tattoos are becoming increasingly popular in the United States, but they have been around for centuries in other parts of the world.

This form of body modification, where ink is inserted into the dermis to create art—had tribal and religious significance for different ethnic groups. They still do but have also morphed into various meanings for tattoo lovers.

For some, it’s telling a story, for others it’s a deep personal expression, while for many it is a sexy fashion statement.

One thing is certain; many of us are getting them. In fact, a reported one-third of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are enduring the pain of the needle to get tatted up. The season made for maximum skin exposure is right here, thus Summer is especially busy for tattoo shops in big cities like New York.

Most have more than two tattoos, while several are proudly sporting full body art. Some have admitted to being addicted. I once saw a woman who had every inch of her skin—from head to toe—adorned with tattoos, and she admitted spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on her addiction.

Whatever your reasons for getting inked, there are important do's and don’ts to consider before you sit down for your next or “virgin” tat. First off, let’s clear up the cancer controversy. Do tattoos cause the dreaded deadly disease?

According to BlackDoctor.org, tattoos can make it harder to detect skin cancer because they may obscure cancer-related changes in moles. So if you’re considering going under the needle, remember to refrain from covering up existing moles.

Also keep in mind that tattoos can cause bumps that resemble a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Because it is hard to tell the difference, this could cause wrong diagnoses, which can lead to expensive and unnecessary skin cancer treatments and even surgery.

Allergic reactions to inks used are some of the most common health problems from tattoos. Infections, syphilis and hepatitis B and C have also been linked to non-sterile tattoo practices.

The good folks at BlackDoctor.org have compiled a list of do's and don’ts to follow if you visit a tattoo shop.

  1. Go to a professional tattoo parlor and to a tattoo artist who is licensed according to state requirements. Insist on seeing tattoo equipment in sterile packaging.
  2. Tell the tattoo artist if you have a reaction. If a problem lasts more than one to two weeks, see a dermatologist.
  3. People with a chronic skin condition such as psoriasis, eczema or a tendency toward keloid scarring should check with a dermatologist before getting a tattoo.
  4. Do not get a tattoo over a mole. Doing so will make it more difficult to diagnose a problem if the mole changes in the future.

Keep in mind tattoos aren’t regulated, and this can pose a host of problems. According to Dr. Michi Shinohara, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Washington-Seattle, you could run into trouble, especially from the ink and tools used.

Sterilizing tools is of utmost importance and you need to be vigilant and proactive when visiting tattoo shops.

Moreover, modern inks have changed, and many of them now contain organic azo dyes with plastic-based pigments. These same dyes are used industrially in car paint, textiles and printing.

The diagnosis is still out on how these industrial-grade inks interact within the body and the skin, for the long-term effects have not yet been studied.

There was a reported case of a 23-year-old Italian student who died hours after getting a tattoo. Federica Iammatteo became ill after getting a tattoo in Milan April of this year.

Iammatteo was in perfect health and this wasn't her first time getting a tattoo near her spine, but it proved to be fatal.

The day after, she began experiencing shivers and felt pins and needles in her hands and feet. She thought she was coming down with the flu and saw a doctor.

She was rushed to the hospital after she began haemorrhaging. Her family was stunned when the vibrant, healthy young woman went into septic shock and died soon after.

Doctors weren't quite sure what happened. It could have been an infection or a lethal reaction to the ink used.

So be careful out there: Weigh the pros and cons before you ink up.