I got an amalgam tattoo removed today. She said it was a piece of amalgam and the area was infected. They've sent it away for a biopsy. Can this be a cause for cancer?
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An amalgam tattoo, which is a discoloration of the gums, lips, or other tissues in the mouth caused by metal particles from an amalgam filling, may be treated in one of several ways. Since these types of lesions are not dangerous and will not cause any medical problems, they may simply be left alone, with no treatment necessary. Some people may wish to have them removed for cosmetic reasons, however, in which case they have two options. They may be surgically removed or a laser may be used to break up the metal particles. In some cases, if there is concern that the discoloration is actually a cancerous lesion instead of an amalgam tattoo, a biopsy may need to be performed on the area.
One option with an amalgam tattoo is simply to not treat it. Particles of silver, mercury, and other metals from fillings can become trapped in the soft tissues of the mouth like the gums, cheeks, and tongue, typically during a dental procedure. These particles are not painful or dangerous though, and will not cause harm if left where they are. They only need to be removed if they are cosmetically embarrassing for the person.
Patients who do wish to get an amalgam tattoo removed may need to have surgery to do so. The discolored area is surgically removed, sometimes using a laser. Often, a graft will also be used to help repair the tissue at the surgical site.
The other option for amalgam tattoo removal is to break it up with a Q-switched ruby laser. A laser is directed at the amalgam lesions and used to break the metal particles up. Once this is done, the body's lymphatic system may clear them away naturally, or they may be able to be extracted through the skin. This procedure may involve several sessions to clear away the tattoo.
Though not technically a treatment for an amalgam tattoo itself, it is sometimes necessary to have one biopsied to confirm what it is. This is because certain types of cancerous lesions like melanomas can sometimes look very similar to them. If a lesion looks suspicious, or is not in a location that would seem likely to be the result of amalgam getting in the tissue, a doctor may want to rule out the possibility of cancer. Once a biopsy does confirm an amalgam tattoo, a patient can then consider the options for treatment.