A California woman developed skin cancer after getting a cut during a manicure. Now, she and her doctor are spreading the word about her ordeal as a lesson that speed and persistence in seeking treatment are the keys that make her type of cancer – squamous cell carcinoma — completely curable.
“She cut me, and the cut wasn’t just a regular cuticle cut. She cut me deep, and that was one of the first times that happened to me,” Grace Garcia, 50, told TODAY.com, recalling the November 2021 incident.
Garcia had been getting her nails done regularly for 20 years, she said, but happened to go to a different salon than her usual spot because she couldn’t get an appointment during the busy pre-Thanksgiving season. She doesn’t recall whether the technician opened packaging that signals unused tools.
She put antibiotic ointment on the cut, but it didn’t heal after a few days. Eventually, the skin closed and a darkened bump formed. It was painful. She went to her doctor, who said it was a “callus from writing,” she told TODAY.com. But it was on her ring finger, which didn’t seem connected to writing. Her doctor said to keep an eye on it.
Five months after the cut occurred, she mentioned it during a gynecology appointment and was referred to a dermatologist, who also advised keeping an eye on it. A wart developed. She went back to her primary care physician and then to another dermatologist. The spot was biopsied.
Squamous cell carcinoma is a common type of skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It can have many causes, but the cause in Garcia’s case was both very common and very rare: human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is a virus that infects millions of people every year, but it’s not a typical cause of skin cancer.
“It’s pretty rare for several reasons. Generally speaking, the strains that cause cancer from an HPV standpoint tend to be more sexually transmitted,” dermatologist Teo Soleymani, MD, told TODAY.com. “In Grace’s case, she had an injury, which became the portal of entry. So that thick skin that we have on our hands and feet that acts as a natural barrier against infections and things like that was no longer the case, and the virus was able to infect her skin.”
Soleymani said Garcia’s persistence to get answers likely saved her from losing a finger.
“Your outcomes are entirely dictated by how early you catch them, and very often they’re completely curable,” he said. “Her persistence, not only was she able to have a great outcome, she probably saved herself from having her finger amputated.”
TODAY.com: “After her cut from a manicure wouldn’t heal, woman learns she has rare nail cancer due to HPV.”
American Academy of Dermatology: “Skin Cancer Types: Squamous Cell Carcinoma.”
Mayo Clinic: “HPV infection.”
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