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Tattoo markings from breast cancer treatment may be a painful reminder to some

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Reflections for laser tattoo removal.
Reflections for laser tattoo removal.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a time in which people remember loved ones who had the condition and try to raise money for those in treatment for the all-too-prevalent disease. Some breast cancer survivors do not need a special month to remember their fight, since many still have a small tattoo on their chest placed there by a radiologist in order to mark the radiation field for treatment.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the tattoos are necessary during radiation therapy in order for healthcare providers to have a precise point that will help them determine how to position a patient during imaging or treatment procedures. Such techniques include CT scans, MRIs, PETs and ultrasound.

An article on the ABC News website reports that the patient may have as many as five of these small dots, which are typically blue. Jay Harris, M.D., of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the news source that the markings may be needed in the future in case of recurrence, due to the risks of treating the same area with radiation more than once.

In her book Living Through Cancer, Carolyn Kaelin, M.D. M.P.H., of Harvard Medical School, reports that the tattoos can sometimes cause women distress, especially those placed in the highly visible collarbone area. Women who desire laser tattoo removal for their markings should get clearance from their radiation oncologist before going through with the procedure.

If you do decide that you want to have your radiation markings removed, have a number of good-quality photographs taken prior to the procedure so you have a reference in case later treatments are needed.

Additionally, be sure that you choose a tattoo removal specialist who has experience. While the markings may be small, laser procedures require precision. They work by applying highly concentrated light beams through the skin, resulting in a blood- and scar-free tattoo removal. Small tattoos are good candidates for removal, and will likely require only a few sessions. Laser tattoo removal is an outpatient procedure that requires local anesthesia.

For women who have survived breast cancer and have remained cancer-free for a significant amount of time, laser tattoo removal may help rid them of the everyday reminders of their difficult time.