Chronic Nail-Biter Has Thumb Amputated Due To Rare Cancer


A college student had her thumb removed as a result of a rare skin cancer. Is this related to her chronic nail-biting?

Black Thumb

Courtney Whithorn has been a chronic nail biter from childhood and in 2014, she bit her entire thumb nail off. As a chronic nail biter, Whithorn say she does not even realize that she’s biting her nails anymore as she had been doing it so often. After she bit her thumb nail off, however, she kept her thumb hidden from friends and family for years until it began turning black and she decided to show them earlier this year.

When Whithorn went to consult a doctor, she did so for cosmetic reasons as she was already very self-conscious about the look of her thumb. However, her doctor advised her to go and see two plastic surgeons who planned to remove the blackened skin and place a skin graft over her nailbed. But before her surgery, the doctors sensed that something was wrong so they decided to conduct a biopsy.

Cancer Diagnosis

Although the first biopsy had uncertain results, more tests revealed that Whithorn had acral lentiginous subungual melanoma, which is a type of rare skin cancer. Since her diagnosis in July, she has gotten four surgeries, with the fourth one conducted to remove her entire thumb. The amputation was necessary because the exact location of the cancer was uncertain, and they found that it was already beginning to spread.

So far, Whithorn is still waiting for the tests to see if she is already clear of cancer cells. If she is cleared, doctors will monitor her condition for the next five years. If she is not, however, they might have to keep amputating until she is cleared of cancer cells.

Twenty-year-old Whithorn’s nail biting grew intense when she was 16 years old and was being bullied at school. Because of her condition, Whithorn has had to put her studies on hold but she plans to continue once she has already recovered.

Acral Lentiginous Subungual Melanoma And Nail Biting

Acral lentiginous subungual melanoma is a type of rare skin cancer that affects the skin on the palms, soles of the feet, and under the nails. Anyone can develop the cancer, but it is more common among people with darker skin as well as Asians. Unlike other skin cancers, acral lentiginous subungual melanoma is not believed to be related to UV exposure.

Because it is a very rare type of skin cancer, not a lot is known about it, although research is already ongoing to understand it more. However, some research suggests that it may be linked to injury to the hand or foot. In Whithorn’s case, it is unclear whether her nail biting is related to the cancer.

That said, nail biting can result in abnormal-looking nails, and leave the individual vulnerable to potentially harmful bacteria that may be passed from the mouth to the fingers and vice versa.

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