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Leukoplakia: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About leukoplakia

Leukoplakia is the term used by doctors to describe white patches on the mucous membrane or the inner lining of the mouth, mostly the tongue and the cheeks. Occasionally, the anal canal and the genital regions may also get involved. These white patches cannot be rubbed off.

Leukoplakia: Incidence, age and sex

Leukoplakia lesions are found in 3% of the world population. It is usually found in the age group of 40-70 years and is twice as frequent in men as compared with women.

Signs and symptoms of leukoplakia: Diagnosis

Leukoplakia is characterized by presence of white patches or plaque usually on the tongue or the inner lining of the cheek. These patches are thick, hard, slightly raised and typically painless. Leukoplakia develops gradually over a period of 2-4 weeks. The lesion may progressively turn rough or become increasingly sensitive to temperature, touch and spicy food. Discomfort and irritation in the affected area are common complaints.

A detailed physical examination including oral examination usually is enough to detect the condition. However leukoplakia in other areas, like anal canal or urethra is picked up relatively late. Sometimes, biopsy of the affected tissue may be required to establish the diagnosis.

Causes and prevention of leukoplakia

Leukoplakia is primarily caused by the use of tobacco which causes chronic irritation of the inner lining of the mouth. Other causes include infections by human papilloma virus, candida albicans and exposure to carcinogens. Bloodroot, also known as sanguinaria, is also thought to be associated with leukoplakia. Regular oral examination along with cessation of smoking and limitation of alcohol consumption may help in preventing the occurrence of leukoplakia.

Leukoplakia: Complications

Leukoplakia usually gets clear once the source of irritation is eliminated; however 0.5 – 25% of leukoplakia are pre-cancerous. Therefore, biopsy is necessary for every lesion. Hairy leukoplakia, which is associated with HIV infection, may progress to lymphoma. Moreover, there is a high risk of secondary infection of leukoplakia, especially in individuals with low immunity.

Leukoplakia: Treatment

The first and foremost step in the management of leukoplakia is thorough evaluation and subsequent elimination of the underlying cause. The only way to remove the lesion is by a surgical approach. The surgical removal of leukoplakia patch is called excision. It can be done by using LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) is a highly focused and powerful beam of light energy that is used for precise surgical work. It may remove leukoplakia patches without causing excess scarring. Other modalities like cryosurgery may also be considered, which involves the use of very cold probe or liquid nitrogen spray to remove abnormal cells. Leukoplakia is generally a harmless condition which resolves without any residual affects.