What are Leukoplakia and Erythroplakia?
Leukoplakia are unusual skin lesions which cause smooth, white plaques and sores in the mouth that may develop into oral cancer. They take several years to form and generally appear spontaneously from an unknown cause.
They can appear on the tongue, inside of the cheeks and soft palate and are very common, affecting about 3 in every 100 people with 5% of those going on to becoming cancerous. Just like the many other skin cancers we have been discussing, leucoplakia are more commonly seen in people over 40 and is five times more prevalent in men than women.
Erythroplakia causes red patches and more visible displasia (abnormal growths) rather than white lesions. They have a distinct border around them and are treated as a precancerous skin lesion because as many as 40% of those affected will actually develop into cancer.
The main causes of the two conditions are -
- Smoking or exposure to carcinogens in chewing tobacco.
- Excessive alcohol consumption.
- Long term irritation from rubbing teeth or dentures.
- Poor general health resulting from a deficiency in vitamin A, vitamin B-12, vitamin C & folic acid.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV).
A general lifestyle improvement where stopping smoking, reducing alcohol and sensible, healthy eating may help reduce the development of Leukoplakia considerably.
If it is found that your lesion is precancerous, the treatment will normally involve surgical removal in the first instance, possibly just requiring a local anaesthtic.
A related condition called Hairy Leukoplakia is observed in people with a severely compromised immune system such as the HIV infection or transplant patients. It presents as white patches usually on the tongue. Here, the 'hairy' looking skin lesions are in fact caused by the Epstein Barr virus (glandular fever) and are not precancerous at all.
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