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Alternative namesLeukoplakia is a precancerous lesion that develops on the tongue or the inside of the cheek as a response to chronic irritation. Occasionally, leukoplakia patches develop on the female external genitalia.
Causes, incidence, and risk factorsLeukoplakia is primarily a disorder of the mucous membranes of the mouth, caused by irritation. Lesions usually develop on the tongue, but they may also appear on the insides of the cheek.
Irritation may result from rough teeth or rough places on dentures, fillings, crowns and so on. It may also result from smoking or other tobacco use (smoker's keratosis). Pipe smoking involves a high risk for development of leukoplakia, as does holding chewing tobacco or snuff in the mouth for a prolonged period of time.
Leukoplakia patches may develop on the female external genital area, but the cause is unknown.
Like other mouth ulcers , leukoplakia may become a cancerous lesion.
The disorder is most common in the elderly.
"Hairy" leukoplakia of the mouth is an unusual form of leukoplakia that is seen only in HIV -positive individuals. It consists of fuzzy (hairy) white patches on the tongue, and less frequently, elsewhere in the mouth. It may resemble thrush, a type of candida infection that in adults is also associated with HIV and AIDS. Hairy leukoplakia may be one of the first signs of infection with HIV.
The primary symptom of leukoplakia is a skin lesion with the following characteristics:
The symptoms of hairy leukoplakia are painless, fuzzy, white patches on the tongue.
Signs and tests
The typical sign of leukoplakia is a white patch that has developed slowly, over weeks to months. The lesion may eventually become rough textured and may become sensitive to touch, heat, spicy foods, or other irritation.
A biopsy of the lesion confirms the diagnosis. An examination of the biopsy specimen may find changes that indicate oral cancer .
The goal of treatment is to eliminate the lesion. Removal of the source of irritation is important and can lead to disappearance of the lesion.
Surgical removal of the lesion may be necessary. The lesion is usually removed in your health care provider's office with the use of local anesthesia.
Some research has shown that vitamin A or vitamin E can shrink lesions, but this should only be administered with close supervision by a health care provider.
Treatment of leukoplakia on the vulva is the same as treatment of oral lesions.
Expectations (prognosis)Leukoplakia is usually harmless, and lesions usually clear in a few weeks or months after the source of irritation is removed. Approximately 3% of leukoplakia lesions develop cancerous changes.
Hairy leukoplakia is often a sign of HIV infection and an increased likelihood of developing AIDS .
Calling your health care providerCall for an appointment with your health care provider if you have any lesions resembling leukoplakia or hairy leukoplakia.
PreventionMinimize or stop smoking or other tobacco use. Have rough teeth treated and dental appliances repaired promptly.
Safe sexual practices minimize the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
Update Date: 11/7/2002Ezra E. W. Cohen, M.D., Department of Medicine, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT