I hope you had a good nail-biting session today, because after you read this, you’ll never want to stick your fingers in your mouth again (which is good, because germ city): One 20-year-old woman by the name of Courtney Whithorn had her thumb amputated after developing a rare form a cancer. The alleged cause of the cancer? Nail biting.
According to The Sun, Whithorn was such an intense nail biter that she completely bit her thumb nail off in 2014, causing it to never fully grow back. Her nailbed eventually began to turn black, pushing her to seek medical treatment, which led to her diagnosis of a very rare form of cancer, acral lentiginous subungual melanoma, which doctors believe is linked to nail-biting trauma.
“When I found out that biting my nail off was the cause of the cancer, it shattered me,” Whithorn told The Sun. Though she underwent multiple surgeries to remove her nail bed, the malignant cells in her thumb, and two of her lymph nodes to test for cancer—which, thankfully, hadn’t spread—surgeons were still forced to amputate her thumb to her knuckle.
“There’s not enough research to say what the survival rate is or what the likelihood of it coming back is,” said Whithorn. “I’m still waiting for that set of results from the surgery last week, and if it’s clear, then the surgeon watches me for the next five years, and I get regular scans and bloods.”
Should You Be Scared?
Before you freak out and convince yourself that your nervous habit has given you cancer, know that nail biting hasn’t at all been proven to be cancer-causing. “There aren’t any studies that show that trauma contributes to this type of melanoma,” says Mona Gohara, M.D., dermatologist at Yale University. “Really nobody knows the etiology of acral lentiginous subungual melanoma, though it’s known to be more common in people of color, and is likely due to genetics and/or UV light—though, yes, it’s possible that trauma might contribute to it.”
Still, even if there were a tiny, tiny chance that your previous nail trauma could lead to cancer, Dr. Gohara says it would be extremely rare. “Nail biting is not considered a risk factor for cancer at all—it’s just a gross habit, especially since flu season is almost here.” Of course, if you do notice any changes in your nails or skin, make sure to talk to your doctor immediately, just to be on the safe side.