Leukoplakia

Alternative Names

Hairy leukoplakia; Smoker’s keratosis

Definition of Leukoplakia

Leukoplakia is a precancerous sore (lesion) that develops on the tongue or the inside of the cheek in response to chronic irritation. Occasionally, leukoplakia patches develop on the external female genitals.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Leukoplakia mainly affects the mucus membranes of the mouth. It is caused by irritation. Sores usually develop on the tongue, but they may also appear on the insides of the cheek.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of hairy leukoplakia are painless, fuzzy white patches on the side of the tongue.

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.

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.

Expectations (prognosis)

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

Review

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 8/28/2009

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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