1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

What Are Radiation Tattoos?

By

Updated April 22, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Are Radiation Tattoos?
Answer: Before having breast radiation, you may need to have skin markings or radiation tattoos put on your breast skin. These marks help your radiation therapist accurately aim the radiation at your treatment area. You may be having five days or six weeks of radiation, and every treatment should be aimed at the same place in order to prevent recurrence and spare healthy tissue.

It's a bit like using a bulls-eye target for archery, darts, or rifle practice -- having a clear target area to aim at improves results.

Blue Tattoos For Treatment Safety

Radiation tattoos will be blue or black, and will be created using a drop of ink and a very slender needle. You might feel the needle stick, which should hurt no more than a mosquito bite. These tattoos won't wash off, so you will be able to shower or swim anytime during treatment without loosing these important markings. However, if a skin marker is used instead of a permanent tattoo, be careful to keep these marks dry until the end of treatment.

Your breast radiation tattoos will be tiny -- about the size of a freckle, or 1 millimeter. There will be at least four tattooed dots, each marking one corner of the area to be radiated. Having these skin marks in place helps speed setup for each treatment as well as increases the safety and accuracy of your radiation. Radiation tattoos will be created during your treatment simulation, before treatments begin.

Marks Of Survival

Your radiation tattoos will be permanent, and they can serve as a reminder that you are a breast cancer survivor. These tattoos also provide a visual reference for other doctors who may need to know where you received radiation.

If your chances of recurrence are very low and your oncologist agrees, you could consider having surgery or laser treatment to remove the tattoos. See a plastic surgeon or dermatologist about tattoo removal, if you plan on removing these skin marks. Many women feel that their radiation tattoos are marks of survival and strength.

Sources:

How Is Breast Cancer Treated? External beam radiation. American Cancer Society. Last Updated: 09/29/2009.

Radiation Therapy for Cancer: Questions and Answers. National Cancer Institute. Last Updated: 08/25/2004.

Related Video
Getting a Breast Biopsy
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Breast Cancer
  4. Treatment Options
  5. Radiation Therapy
  6. What Are Radiation Tattoos? - Question and Answer

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.