Why Are Tattoos Used In Radiation Treatment Planning and Are They Permanent?

Question: What are tattoos used in radiation treatment planning and are they permanent?

Answer: Most institutions do tattoos. And I know the term conjures up large roses, or other images. But in fact, the tattoos that are used are pinpoint marks, which mark the edges of the field. In radiation therapy, one of the most important aspects of the treatment is precision. And, the use of tattoos is an important aid in helping to make sure that your treatments are going to be done precisely, the same way each day.

The tattoos also can be important in your future care, in that sometimes situations arise, and it is important to know with precision where you had previously received radiation since we're not able to give radiation to the same area, except in very special circumstances. So this information can be very important to your health in the future. We recommend that tattoos be placed -- typically five of them -- these dots are placed, and that patients keep them on. There are now plastic surgical approaches which can remove these. And, currently, for the reasons that I've given, we advise patients not to do this. And for the most part, given how small these marks are, patients are convinced that this is in their best interest, to keep them.

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