Several scans left doctors suspecting the patient had lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the immune system.
However, when they removed a swollen lymph node from her armpit, they found it was enlarged not because of cancer cells but because it was filled with black pigment.
‘The woman operated for lymphoma had a black pigment in the arm pit due to a hypersensitive reaction to a tattoo she had gotten on her back 15 years earlier.’
The woman likely had a hypersensitive reaction to a tattoo she had gotten on her back 15 years earlier.
"The lymph system helps to filter our blood and helps to identify infections so our immune system can react and fight the infection, but they filter lots of other things, too, and in this case, they were filtering the pigment," Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, told CBS News.
The woman had two tattoos - a large black-ink tattoo on her back that had been there for 15 years and one on her left shoulder that was two and a half years old.
Doctors believe it was her back tattoo that caused the issues, since the swelling occurred in both armpits.
Why the patient experienced the reaction so many years later appears to be a mystery.
Piliang said that these instances are rare. "What's much more common is allergic reactions to tattoos in the skin," she said. Infections are also common. That's why it's important to do research before choosing a place to get a tattoo to ensure it meets all safety standards and to closely follow directions for care."
"It's important that you go to a professional tattoo artist," she added, "somebody who runs a clean and reputable business who follows sterile procedures and understands what that means."