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Tattoo, CAT, and MRI
November 2003

Q. I've heard that if you have a tattoo you cannot get a CAT scan or an MRI on the area that the tattoo covers, because it will burn. Is this true?

A. A good question, and I'm sure of interest to many as tattoos are quite common now. The CT scan is not of concern as it is a computerized X-ray, and the X-ray will not interfere or interact with the dyes and pigments of a tattoo.

The MRI raises some questions as the dyes often contain metallic elements, and an MRI image is obtained by placing the person (or body part to be imaged) in a large magnet. A recent study on the chemical components of 30 common tattoo inks showed 87% contained aluminum, and 67% contained titanium. If the tattoo is on the upper arm and the MRI was done on the knee, for example, there would be no problem. An MRI done on the shoulder might obtain poor images due to the metal in the dye, and if the tattoo were recent, the tattoo itself could potentially be damaged cosmetically, but there are no reported cases of any harm to the skin or other health consequences to the patient.



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