This weird medical condition causes people to grow horns, and anyone can develop it
The human body is a weird and wonderful thing. It sweats, sprouts hair, produces gas, converts food into energy, allows us to see and hear and taste and smell, grows, shrinks, ages, improves, declines, and - ultimately - allows us to function as the most advanced species on the planet.
However, it doesn't always work as it is supposed to.
Every now and then, a person's biology decides to go a bit rogue, and they end up with an extra toe or a weird bald patch; and it's just something they have to live with. Sometimes, though, an individual will start to grow horns - and that's not as easy to hide.
Cutaneous horns, to give them their proper scientific name, are compact clumps of keratin that form horns of various shapes and sizes on the surface of the skin.
Though incredibly rare, they are real, and people afflicted by the condition in the past may have been the inspiration for certain mythical creatures or apocryphal legends. Witches, for instance, are often depicted with growths on their faces, and devils or demons are usually associated with having horns.
But the growths don't always sprout in such a classic horn shape. In fact, they're unpredictable in a lot of ways.
For instance, if someone develops the condition, they usually only grow a single horn - but it is possible to develop more. Unfortunately, they usually spring up on the face, ears, or backs of the hand, so they're quite difficult to hide if you have one."Nail horns" have also been known to spring up on other parts of the body, too: most commonly on the big toes, but also (very rarely) on the penis.
And, so far, scientists aren't entirely sure what causes them.
What we do know, however, is that there are a number of factors which will increase a person's chances of developing a cutaneous horn. Age is one of the main ones, as growths like these are not normally seen in people under the age of 50. Having a white or fair complexion is another risk factor, as is sustaining a lot of sun damage to the skin - so if you're pale and easily at risk of being burnt, remember to slap on some cream before heading out in the heat.
And for the few of you out there who are thinking, "actually it would be pretty cool to have horns", you might also want to know that the condition can be fatal. While around 60 per cent of horns turn out to be benign, the remaining 40 per cent are either cancerous or precancerous - usually a squamous cell carcinoma.
But, if the growth isn't a symptom of some other disease, then a person can actually live with one without experiencing any other health problems. Indeed, one of the most famous examples of someone with a cutaneous horn was Madame Dimanche, a Parisian woman who lived in the 1800s. She had a horn on her forehead for six years, and it supposedly reached 9.8 inches in length. It was eventually removed by a surgeon.
Removing a horn isn't as simple as just chopping it off, though, as any damage to it will be just as painful as an infliction to any other part of the body. However, it can be done under local anaesthetic, and a doctor will either surgically remove the unwanted tissue or apply liquid nitrogen to the horn. With the latter method, the extreme cold causes the growth to eventually fall off.
So, the good news is, if you've ever had dreams of becoming a unicorn - congratulations, you might still have a shot one day! The bad news, on the other hand, is that, should you develop a cutaneous horn, you'll quite likely have to have it removed. Sorry about that.