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‘Invisible tattoos’ can improve body confidence breast cancer radiotherapy patients

Experts are thinking of replacing the permanent dark-ink tattoos that cancer patients receive during radiotherapy with newly-developed ‘invisible tattoos’ which could help restore and improve body confidence.

Results from a pilot study conducted by a team at the Royal Marsden hospital in London showed that the current dark ink tattoos used by radiotherapists tends to remind patients of their treatment for years to come, often reducing body confidence and self-esteem. They also found that the dark tattoos are harder to see on darker-skinned patients, meaning that there could often be inconsistencies in the area being treated.

Currently, dark ink tattoos are used to mark the exact spot for radiotherapy treatment so that healthcare professionals can ensure the precision and effectiveness of the radiotherapy is the same every time the patient is treated.

The study asked 42 breast cancer patients at the Royal Marsden hospital to rate how they felt about their body before they received treatment and then again one month later. Half the participants were offered fluorescent tattoos which are only visible under UV light, whereas the other half had conventional dark ink tattoos.

The results of the study showed that 56% of the women who had the ‘invisible tattoos’ felt better about their bodies one month on from treatment, whereas only 14% of the participants with the dark ink tattoos felt the same. Using the fluorescent tattoos made practically no different to the accuracy of the treatment and took only slightly longer to carry out compared to the conventional darker inkings.

Steven Landeg is a senior radiographer at the Royal Marsden and he said, “These findings suggest that offering fluorescent radiotherapy tattoos as an alternative to dark ink ones could help ameliorate the negative feelings some women feel towards their bodies after treatment. It’s important to remember that body image is subjective and dark ink radiotherapy tattoos will affect patients differently, but we hope that these results will go some way towards making this a viable option for radiotherapy patients in the future.”

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