Dr. M.J. Bazos,
Leukoplakia is a term used to describe white
spots that occur on the inner lining of the mouth, lips, tongue, or vaginal
area. Smoking is the most common cause of leukoplakia of the mouth. Sun exposure
and chronic irritation are also associated with leukoplakia. Ill–fitting
dental appliances can be a source of chronic irritation. If untreated, up to 20%
can become cancer. Leukoplakia is not contagious. A doctor can sometimes
diagnose leukoplakia upon examination of the involved area. A biopsy (removal of
a sample of involved area) is required to determine the presence or absence of
cancer or precancerous lesions. In most cases, leukoplakia can be cured with
treatment, but recurrences are common and require retreatment.
Living With Your Diagnosis The
most common sign of leukoplakia is a small white patch inside the mouth or on
the tongue or lips. The patch is slightly raised and well defined. There can be
biopsy is performed by first deadening the area with an anesthetic such as
lidocaine. A sharp sterile knife or biopsy tool is used to remove a sample of
the leukoplakia. This is sent to a special laboratory for microscopic analysis.
Subsequent treatment depends on the location and the results of the biopsy. All
patients should stop smoking. Small areas of leukoplakia will sometimes
disappear after you stop smoking. Complete removal of a suspicious-looking area
is sometimes performed instead of biopsy at the initial visit. Electrosurgery
(using an electric needle) and cryosurgery (freezing) can be used to treat small
areas of leukoplakia. Beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A) and isotretinoin
(Accutane) are two medications taken by mouth that can cure some types of
leukoplakia. These usually have to be taken daily for up to a few months.
Isotretinoin can cause birth defects and should not be taken by pregnant women.
Leukoplakia of the lip and outer vaginal area can sometimes be treated with
application of 5-FU (Efudex) cream, applied two times per day for 2–3
weeks. This causes redness, soreness, and inflammation and actually destroys the
• Report any
suspicious-looking or unusual areas to your doctor, including anything on the
skin, inside the mouth, on the tongue, or in the vaginal
• Follow your doctor’s
advice until the leukoplakia is completely
• If you smoke, stop
immediately. Smoking is the major risk factor for leukoplakia of the mouth and
• If you chew or use any
tobacco products, stop immediately.
Remove any chronic irritation caused by teeth or dentures or sharp dental
When to Call Your
• If the leukoplakia does
not go away after treatment.
• If any
new white patches occur.
• If any
fever or bleeding occur after treatment.