Is it safe for a patient undergoing chemo to get a tattoo?

19 answers | Last updated: Nov 29, 2016
Concerned family member asked...

is it safe for a patient doing chemo get a tattoo? Would it hurt the treatment?


Expert Answers

Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for Caring.com's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions.

The reason that doctors often warn against getting a tattoo -- or doing anything else that's an infection risk-- while undergoing chemotherapy is that chemo drugs lower cancer patients' white blood cell count, and white blood cells are the ones that fight infection. It's not that the tattoo is going to interfere with cancer treatment exactly, but an infection can be very dangerous when the body is immune compromised.

Most tattoo artists take precautions to make the procedure safe and infection-free, but when it comes to needles piercing the skin, there is going to be an infection risk.

If your family member really wants to get a tattoo, and can't wait until chemotherapy's completed, it would be best if they discussed it with the oncologist.


Community Answers

M320753 answered...

i would tend to think that getting a tattoo would be the furthest thing from my mind if i was getting chemo. but whatever floats your boat


Waifxoxo answered...

m320753,

[edited for language], while under going cancer treatments it's nice to think of ways to take some control over your body and for some that means tattoos. you know what ppl getting chemo think about ALL the time? chemo...and it's destroying our body while curing the cancer. during cancer treatments your covered in needle marks, pen marks, site stickers, and tattoos (!) for radiation, not to mention bleo spots. it's a nice thought to hope one day you'll be able to put something you actually want to look at on your body.


Mrguy answered...

It is not a good idea at all. I am doing chemo now too and chemo just messes up your immune system, kills red and white blood cells. You could almost guarantee you would get an infection and that the tattoo would surely not heal right.

Waifxoxo... I completely agree with you. People tell you try not to think about it but how can you not think about it...


Livestrongmom answered...

I am an eight year survivor. Of those eight years I have been in treatment off and on for six and a half. I have treatment every two weeks. Last year after a year of all kinds of medical treatment and procedures in 2010, I got a tat during my "off" week. I did just fine. In fact, this tat healed better than two previous I had years before I was diagnosed. I proudly displayed my tattoo to my oncologist the next week when I went in for treatment. She just shook her head at me because she has come to expect the unexpected from me as a cancer patient goes. I don't sit around watch life happen. Cancer doesn't have me by any means, I have control of it and live life to be fullest while educating myself about every minut detail of the specific cancer in my body and how I handle it. Anyway, I obviously don't have a issue with it and in fact, just scheduled to have another done this week. And I am currently in treatment.


M320753 answered...

waifxoxo, it's got nothing to do with tattos. it's a safety issue for people whose body is being attacked by cancer and the weakness to your body if a totto causes an infection. i could think of many things i would do that would be a lot safer and still give you control of your life! one might be to cure yourself from being edited for foul language, another is to improve the quality of ones life as much as possible depending on the stage of cancer you are in. do something you always wished you could do, again depending on your circumstances. i have borderline moderate/severe COPD, they found nodules on my left lung years ago and keep giving me ct scans and mris. my doctor was going to stop the tests as nothing had changed in 10 years, but decided to do one more scan which showed 3 cloudy ares in my right lung, another test found one of the cloudy spots became a lesion, another scan in july, i have to see what happens.while my condition no how compares with yours i know how it feels to not be able to breath or walk another step, or pass out from low oxygen levels causing hospital stays while my wounds are treated and my oxygen is back to normal. but i try to go about my life, on good days i work around the house or in the yard. on bad days i do nothing. lately the bad days are getting more frequent. hang in there is all i can say. good luck to you and God Bless


Jdtannen answered...

Here is the reality in my opinion folks, and take it for what it is worth....If I am told that I am suffering from a disease that may kill me, something that is going to impact me for the rest of my life, something that makes me realize the reality of just how short life truly is, I am going to live my life to the fullest. If that means that I get a tattoo because that is what makes me happy, than that is what I am going to do. If that means that I am going to get on a train and travel the country (which involves risks), that is what I am going to do. Please remember that everything that we do, every day of our lives, involves risk. There is no guarantee of a tomorrow for any person at any time. Live your life and never let anyone tell you what you can and can't do.


M320753 answered...

it's worth nothing to me. for one doesn't risk further problems while chemo is a problem enough. i used to climb mountains. with mt. everest and mc kinley as my goals. people with perfectly healthy lungs need oxygen at certain altitudes, am i going to take the risk of climbing more mountains when i already use oxygen every day? i was born, but i wasn't born yesterday! i'll heed my doctor's professional advice and stop swiming in the rough surf of the south jersey shore a thing i enjoyed for many years. anyone swimming in the ocean takes the risk of drowning but myself with severe COPD it would be considered suicide. so i stopped doing it. i still go to the shore twice a summer but don't go on the beach. live your life to the fullest! i have and still do, but i live it with restrictions because my Pulminologist told me i shouldn't do certain things and i would have to make life changes if i wanted to enjoy a longer life. can i swim in the ocean sure i can, should i swim in the ocean? NO! will i swim in the ocean? NO. will i go to the lake around the corner from my home ? YES will i swim in that lake? YES will i swim over my head in that lake? NO. if i want a tattoo tomorrow will i get one? YES because my medications are taken orally and not through my veins.


M320753 answered...

waifxoxo you are correct.to say that it is a nice thought to someday put something nice on your body instead of stents and red lines. after you finish chemo and are cured , get a tattoo of your choice. in fact i pray you already got it


A fellow caregiver answered...

I wanted to add, the reason I am considering a tattoo while undergoing chemo treatments is bkz my treatments are indefinite! I would like to get eyebrows tattooed on, as permanent makeup. The best bet is to ok with your oncologist, who approved mine, when my blood counts are good. Never would I consider an ornamental tattoo otherwise, just goes to show, never would I have considered myself a cancer patient either!


Robz123 answered...

I have leukemia and I also want to get a tattoo. Just something to help give me strength when I'm down. I'm going to talk to my doc 1st about it as I'm on a chemo drug hydroxyurea . The tattoo I want to get is a daffodil with the steam of it being the word hope...


Nadz answered...

Im having chemo and having my tattoo today!!! Ur body n life is taken over by treatment surely 1 lil tattoo will help take ur mind off it all hair loss is a killer for me n if having a tattoo makes me feel special again well so be it. Think positive if u live ur life in fear ur gonna get infected then ull spend ur time sat in 4 walls going mad not healthy at all. Dont let treatment rule ur life u still need to live n fight it be strong :) xx


Princessjordyn answered...

I was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer when I was 22 in 2011. I had 12 treatments and surgery. I went into remission for four months and my cancer returned on my ovaries, requiring both to be removed. I restarted chemo and though I'm now clear again my oncologist wants me to continue treatments for a whole year longer. I have come to decide life is unpredictable and if I want a tattoo I shouldn't have to wait. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.


Mamacass answered...

I admire the way many of you think. After being diagnosed in Dec 2013 with stage 4 lung cancer, I have a different thought process. Life is so short, and we are not promised tomorrow. I have cancer, but it could be a fire or a car accident that takes me tomorrow. The nice thing about getting a tattoo is that we are given instructions on how to take care of them for proper healing. I intend on getting a couple of tattoos and am currently going through chemo treatments. One of them is a mother daughter tattoo, and another is in memory of my mother who I lost five years ago to small cell lung cancer. We all have things that are a part of our "bucket list", and I for one refuse to let my illness stop me from living out and accomplishing my goals. God bless each of you, as I know your daily struggles. Thank you also for posting here and allowing others to read. You have all inspired me in one shape or another.


Native soul answered...

I'm in my 2nd year with this cancer challenge and I'm considering getting a tattoo and after reading everyone's comments I think I'm going for it. Guys we are all survivors don't say I have cancer say I'm being challenged by it. I've got thru five different chemo treatment and I'm still being challenged now I've decided to head to Atlanta to the living foods institute and learn about overall optimum health...tattoo and all.


Tattedcancersurvivor answered...

I wouldn't recommend getting a tattoo while going through treatment. I wanted to do the same thing when I was receiving chemo but my oncologists told me I couldn't. So what I did instead, before I lost my hair was dye it fun funky colors and that made things a little more fun and it made losing my hair a lot easier. But I am almost a 3 year survivor now and I have gotten 4 tattoos since I finished treatment and every time I go in for a check up at my oncology office they always shake their heads at me but I don't let that stop me from doing what I want with MY body. Getting a tattoo can put you at major risk of an infection, especially while going through cancer treatment. I wasn't even allowed to go to my dentist to receive cleanings while going through treatment because my chemo caused mouth sores & my oncologists didn't want them to spread throughout my body & attack my port, which could have easily happened if I went to the dentist & they used metal tools in my mouth. Just be careful with whatever you do because a tattoo isn't worth your body getting sicker. A tattoo can wait. Maybe do like someone previously said they did & got a tattoo during their off week of treatment if you must get a tattoo now. I hope everything works out for the best for you! Stay positive! :)


A fellow caregiver answered...

Thanks, everyone for your input. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Triple Negative Breast Cancer on 31 DEC 15. I've had my first round of chemo on 5 JAN. So far, I feel fantastic. On 20 Jan, I'm having my port installed. I want to get a tattoo of the words "Fear Not" on my wrist. I don't want to wait until chemo is over...the point of the tattoo is to remind myself WHILE I'm going through the chemo treatments. My next blood test is Tuesday with surgery on Wednesday. We'll see what the nurse says then. Thanks again everyone. God's Got This!


A fellow caregiver answered...

M320753 Is clearly very narrow minded, as someone suffering from cancer.. Going through chemo is tough and tattoos are artistry why should we not be allowed them too. Pig


Jh7208 answered...

We shouldn't be dragging each other down on this thread! Someone asked about getting a tattoo to feel better about themselves....friends, do whatever you have to in order to feel good about yourself because tomorrow is never promised! All of you stay strong, God bless!