This Nail-Biting Woman Got Thumb Cancer, Resulting in Amputation

Hello, and welcome to your worst nightmare.

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.

The Details

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.

Face, Lip, Nose, Skin, Eyebrow, Cheek, Facial expression, Close-up, Head, Mouth,

(Image credit: Getty)

“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.

Chloe Metzger
Beauty Editor

Chloe Metzger is the deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan, overseeing the editorial content and growth strategy of the hair, makeup, and skin space on digital, while also obsessively writing about the best hair products for every hair type (curly girl here; whattup), and the skincare routines that really, truly work (follow her on Instagram to see behind-the-scenes pics of that magazine life). She brings nearly a decade of writing and editing expertise, and her work has appeared in AllureHealthFitnessMarie ClaireStyleCaster, and Parents. She also has an unhealthy adoration for Tom Hanks and would like to please meet him one day, if you could arrange that. Thanks.