Nail biting is a very common nervous habit. I’d wager to guess that most of us, at some point during our lives, have at least bit our nails once. What probably many of us don’t realize is how dangerous of a habit this can actually be. Sadly, in 2018, 20-year-old Courtney Whithorn from Australia knows this all too well. She developed a rare type of skin cancer from biting her thumbnail too much and ended up having to have the tip of her thumb amputated.
Nail Biting Caused This Woman To Lose Part Of Her Thumb
Courtney Whithorn says that she has bitten her nails as a form of a nervous habit her entire life. When her classmates began bullying her in high school, however, her habit got worse – much worse. In fact, she bit her thumb nail clean off. What’s worse, the nail couldn’t grow back. Courtney spent the next four years hiding it from her friends and family – until her nail bed began turning black. (1)
She visited a doctor who suggested a graft to remove the black spot and then plastic surgery to make it look normal. He also suggested, however, a biopsy to be sure that there wasn’t anything else going on. The results of the biopsy came back with news Courtney never thought she would hear: She had a rare form of melanoma in her thumb, likely caused in part by her nail biting. Now, she would need to have surgery to at least amputate part of the thumb, but perhaps even the entire thing.
Acral Lentiginous Melanoma
The rare melanoma that the doctors diagnosed Courtney with is called acral lentiginous melanoma. It develops on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, or under the nail. It is most common in people from East Asia and quite uncommon in Caucasians. Especially someone like Courtney, who was only 20 years old when she received her diagnosis. The average age for this type of cancer is usually around 40. The cancer usually appears as a brown or black spot on the skin.
This is a very rare form of cancer. At the time of diagnosis, cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes. Her only option, the doctors said, was amputation. They wouldn’t know the extent of it, however, until they had her on the operating table. It could be just part of the thumb, or it could be the entire thumb altogether.
Was It Actually The Nail Biting That Caused Her Cancer?
Dr. Walayat Hussain of the British Association of Dermatologists says that her nail-biting was likely not the cause of Courtney’s cancer. He did, however, say that trauma and inflammation can contribute.
“Chronic trauma and inflammation is indeed a risk factor for skin cancer development, and trauma induced cases of subungual melanoma have been described however.” he said.
Other Conditions That Can Be Caused By Nail Biting
Courtney isn’t the only person to nearly lose their thumb because of nail biting. 18-year-old Lauren Nichols nearly lost her finger from an infection caused by nail-biting. At first it started out as a small green spot. When it continued to get worse, a doctor prescribed her antibiotics. Those didn’t work, and she ended up having to have a therapeutic washout. The doctor said if she hadn’t come in when she did, he would have likely needed to amputate. (2)
When Nail Biting Becomes Problematic
We all bite our nails from time to time. While, when you think about it, it is a bit gross, it generally isn’t overly dangerous to your health. It can, however, become that way if it gets out of hand. It could be considered a problematic behavior if you can’t control it on your own and if it is affecting either your mental or physical health. For example, if you are experiencing the following, you should consider getting help to stop the habit (3):