Chilton Medical Center - ATLANTIC HEALTH SYSTEM
Decrease (-) Restore Default Increase (+)  font size
PrintEmail
Search Health Information   

Leukoplakia

Definition:

Leukoplakia are patches on the tongue, in the mouth, or on the inside of the cheek that occur in response to long-term irritation. Leukoplakia patches may also develop on the outer female genitals.



Alternative Names:

Hairy leukoplakia; Smoker's keratosis; Vulvar leukoplakia



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Leukoplakia mainly affects the mucus membranes of the mouth. It is thought to be caused by irritation, but the cause is not always known.

Irritation in the mouth may be caused by:

  • Rough teeth
  • Rough places on dentures, fillings, and crowns
  • Smoking or other tobacco use (smoker's keratosis), especially pipes
  • Holding chewing tobacco or snuff in your mouth for a long period of time

The disorder is most common in elderly persons.

"Hairy" leukoplakia of the mouth is a different disorder that is seen mostly in HIV-positive people. It may be one of the first signs of HIV infection. It can also appear in other people whose immune system is not working well, such as after a bone marrow transplant. It is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, but is not harmful by itself. The most common symptoms of hairy leukoplakia are painless, fuzzy white patches on the side of the tongue.



Symptoms:

Sores usually develop on the tongue, but they may also appear on the insides of the cheek, or on the outer female genitals. The most common symptoms of hairy leukoplakia are painless, fuzzy white patches on the side of the tongue.

The sores are:

  • Usually white or gray
  • Sometimes red (called erythroplakia, a condition that can lead to cancer)
  • Thick and slightly raised with a hard surface that can't be easily scraped off


Signs and tests:

The typical white patch of leukoplakia develops slowly, over weeks to months. The lesion may eventually become rough in texture, 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 .



Treatment:

The goal of treatment is to get rid of the lesion. Removing the source of irritation is important and may cause the lesion to disappear.

  • Treat dental causes such as rough teeth, irregular denture surface, or fillings as soon as possible.
  • Stop smoking or using other tobacco products.
  • Do not drink alcohol.

You may need surgery to remove the lesion. The lesion is usually removed in your health care provider's office using local anesthesia.

Leukoplakia on the vulva is treated in the same way as oral lesions.



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

Leukoplakia is usually harmless. Lesions often clear up in a few weeks or months after the source of irritation is removed.

Rarely, it may become cancer.



Calling your health care provider:

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have any lesions resembling leukoplakia or hairy leukoplakia.



Prevention:

Stop smoking or using other tobacco products. Do not drink alcohol, or limit your number of alcoholic drinks. Have rough teeth treated and dental appliances repaired promptly.



References:

Sciubba JJ. Oral mucosal lesions. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 91.




Review Date: 7/20/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com


Morristown Medical Center
100 Madison Avenue
Morristown, NJ 07960
973-971-5000

Overlook Medical Center
99 Beauvoir Avenue
Summit, NJ 07901
908-522-2000

Newton Medical Center
175 High Street
Newton, NJ 07860
973-383-2121

Chilton Medical Center
97 West Parkway
Pompton Plains, NJ 07444
973-831-5000

Goryeb Children's Hospital
100 Madison Avenue
Morristown, NJ 07960
973-971-5000

© 2014 Chilton Medical Center, 97 West Parkway, Pompton Plains, New Jersey 1-973-831-5000