Biting nails causes cancer

Could Biting Nails Cause Skin Cancer? Yes, Possibly

The British tabloids are running wild with the story of a 20-year-old woman who had her thumb amputated because of a rare form of cancer. The cause, we are told, was her incessant nail-biting. Believe it or not, this story very well could be true.

The woman wasn't any run-of-the-mill nail-biter. On the contrary, she had an especially problematic habit. In 2014, after developing anxiety from bullying, she says she bit off her entire thumb nail. Then, her thumb turned black. A few years later, she developed subungual (under the nail bed) acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM), an extremely rare cancer. Despite attempts to save the thumb, doctors ultimately decided to amputate it in 2018.

Skin cancer isn't usually due to trauma. Typically, skin cancer -- be it basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or the dreaded melanoma -- is caused by exposure to UV light. However, ALM is not related to sun exposure. Instead, while the true etiology remains unknown, some research suggests that trauma could play a role.

According to a 2009 paper in JAMA, ALM is more common on the soles of the feet rather than the palms of the hands. This led to the hypothesis that trauma -- such as scrapes, punctures, or bruises -- may trigger ALM. Arguably, however, the hands are exposed to much more trauma than the feet. Additionally, when members of African tribes began to wear shoes, there was no decrease in ALM. So, the trauma hypothesis is interesting and biologically plausible but unproven.

If I Bite My Nails, Will I Get Skin Cancer?

Almost certainly not. Most people who bite their nails gnaw away at the tip of the nail, which is a specialized version of the outermost layer of our skin (called the stratum corneum). This skin layer consists entirely of dead cells (stuffed full with a protein called keratin). Dead cells are dead and cannot become cancerous, so anxious people can chew away.

Unfortunately, the woman in this story chewed off her entire nail. That means she damaged the nail matrix -- the region at the bottom of the nail -- which contains stem cells that generate the nail cells. As it so happens, ALM arises from the nail matrix.

So, while most nail-biters need not worry, this woman's rare cancer may very well be due to her extensive nail destruction. The British tabloids got one right, for a change.

biting nails causes cancer
Woman claims nail-biting habit linked to cancer diagnosis

A 20-year-old woman in Australia was left without a thumb after she claims a nail-biting habit formed as a coping mechanism for bullying led to a rare form of cancer.

Courtney Whithorn, who said her habit was so bad that she bit her thumb nail off completely in 2014, noticed that her thumb had started to turn black over the last four years, The Sun reported.

Whithorn was reportedly diagnosed with acral lentiginous subungual melanoma (ALM), which appears on the palms of hands, soles of feet, or under nails. According to the Aim at Melanoma Foundation, ALM may be difficult to recognize as it can be mistaken for a stain or a bruise, and can occur on seemingly healthy skin.

Most cases of AML on the nails occur either on the big toe or thumb. ALM can occur in anyone, and does not appear to be related to sun exposure.


Many patients report trauma or injury to the affected area where ALM is diagnosed, but the link remains unclear. Whithorn said she was shocked when she discovered that her habit might be linked to her diagnosis.

When I found out that biting my nail off was the cause of the cancer it shattered me, she told The Sun. My hand was just constantly in a fist because I didnt want anyone to see it not even my parents. I got a bit freaked out when my skin started to go black so I showed them for the first time this year. I cant even explain how self-conscious I was. I always had fake nails to hide it because it was so black. It was like paper whenever it grew back.

Whithorn said she first consulted a doctor for cosmetic reasons and was referred to two plastic surgeons, who suggested a skin graft but recommended a biopsy before operating.

She was then sent to a specialist for further testing when the results came back unclear, The Sun reported.

They did more tests and when those results came back, I was told that it was a malignant melanoma, which was very rare to have there, especially for someone my age and at that size, she told The Sun. I was obviously very shocked I couldnt believe it all. My mom just burst into tears.


Whithorn has since undergone four surgeries, with the last resulting in an amputation of her thumb. Whithorn said she entered the surgery without knowing whether she would wake up without a thumb.

She said she now will be under surveillance for five years to see if the cancer returns.

Without my boyfriend or family I honestly dont know how I would have got through all this, she told The Sun, while adding that she wants others to think twice about bullying their peers.

I just wish I was as confident and as outspoken as I am now back then, she told The Sun.

Can nail biting cause colon cancer - Answers

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, "Nail biting is the habit of biting one's fingernails or toenails during periods of nervousness, stress, hunger, or boredom. It can also be a sign of mental or emotional disorder. According to Freudian theory, nail biting a symptom of oral fixation. The clinical name for nail biting is chronic onychophagia." Source:

Biting my nails caused cancer

Coutney's nail biting habit led to a cancer diagnosis

But the psychology student had caused such major trauma to her nail bed that it developed into a rare cancer acral lentiginous subungual melanoma.

Since her shock diagnosis in July, Courtney has had to have four surgeries. Despite attempts to save her thumb, Courtneys fourth surgery which took placelast week saw the digit completely removed.

Courtney, from the Gold Coast, said: When I found out that biting my nail offwas the cause of the cancer it shattered me.

In my head I thought Ive done this to myself but obviously I knew I shouldnt have that mentality. I couldnt believe it.

When you think about it how many kids bite their nails its crazy it came to that.

I bit the nail off four years ago and I was obviously very self-conscious of how black it was.

My hand was just constantly in a fist because I didnt want anyone to see it not even my parents.

I got a bit freaked out when my skin started to go black so I showed them for the first time this year.

Courtney says she was shattered when she discovered her diagnosis

After Courtneys second surgery to remove her nail bed, she had a PET scan to produce a detailed 3D image of the inside of her thumb and no more cancerouscells were found.

But panic arose when just a week after thinking she had the all clear, specialists in Sydney told Courtneys surgeon that the protocol for her form of melanomais amputation.

The surgeon decided to first perform a third surgery, creating a wider incision in Courtneys thumb to remove any more malignant cells but that operationonly confirmed the need to amputate.

Part-time receptionist Courtney, who is still recovering from her amputation, said: I had a panic attack at work, I read the word amputation and ran outside I couldnt breathe.

My mum had to come to my work, my boss was tying my hair up and wafting my shirt. I freaked out wed never even spoken about amputation.

We went and saw a melanoma specialist who also agreed that amputation was protocol because this was such a rare cancer.

She has now had her thumb amputated

Courtneys passion for writing is going to be affected a lot now she has had her thumb amputated from above the knuckle.

The student has also had to defer her studies at Griffiths University to recover.

Im still waiting for that set of results from the surgery last week and if its clear then the surgeon watches me for the next five years and I get regular scansand bloods, she said.

Theres not enough research to say what the survival rate is or what the likelihood of it coming back is because we just dont know much about it. Ive justcried every time its been brought up.

The location of the cancer in my thumb is unknown so if it still shows up then theyre just going to have to keep cutting away until we get a clear result.


  • Acral lentiginous melanomas are a rare type of melanoma that usually occur on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. They can also sometimesdevelop around a nail, most commonly the thumbnail or big toenail.
  • Acral lentiginous melanomas are the most common type of melanoma in people with dark skin, but they can occur in people with any skin type.
  • Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can spread to other organs in the body.
  • Melanoma is caused by skin cells that begin to develop abnormally.
  • Certain things can increase your chances of developing melanoma, such as having lots of moles or freckles, pale skin that burns easily, red or blonde hair, ora close family member who's had melanoma.
  • The main treatment for melanoma is surgery, although your treatment will depend on your circumstances.
  • If melanoma is diagnosed and treated at an early stage, surgery is usually successful.
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