|Other names: Balanitis xerotica obliterans, lichen sclerosus et atrophicus, kraurosis vulvae|
|Lichen sclerosus extending to perineum.|
|Symptoms||Typically genital skin: shiny slightly wrinkled pale-white patches surrounded by a purplish halo, extreme itch, thinning of the skin, scarring, small cuts |
|Complications||Pain on passing urine, reluctancy to pass stool, problems with sex, phimosis, <5% risk of squamous cell carcinoma|
|Usual onset||Before puberty, after menopause|
|Risk factors||Bone marrow transplantation|
|Diagnostic method||Visualization, skin biopsy|
|Differential diagnosis||Guttate morphea, lichen planus and lichen simplex chronicus|
|Treatment||Strong topical steroids|
|Medication||Ointments: clobetasol, tacrolimus, pimecrolimus|
|Frequency||1.7% of adult females|
Lichen sclerosus (LS) is a long-term, inflammatory skin disease that affects mainly the genital area. It tends to begin as irregular flat-topped small bumps which then appear as shiny slightly wrinkled pale-white patches surrounded by a purplish halo. It is extremely itchy and the scratching may cause thinning of the skin with small cuts, scarring and damage to parts of the genital area. Tiny blood vessels may be seen on the vulva or penis. Depigmentaion is a common feature of LS affecting a penis. Sometimes there are no symptoms. It can lead to pain on passing urine, vaginal discharge, reluctancy to pass stool and problems with sex. LS rarely occurs elsewhere on the body, but when it does, may involve the upper back or breast. It is associated with an increased risk of skin cancer.
The cause is unknown. It is possibly triggered by infection, trauma and the genital area's tendency to being moist. Bone marrow transplantation may trigger LS. LS can occur at surgical sites in transgender people.
Diagnosis is generally by visualisation. It can be confirmed by skin biopsy which shows thick dermal collagen and thin epidermis. LS may appear similar to guttate morphea, lichen planus and lichen simplex chronicus. Bone marrow transplantation may trigger LS. Treatment involves strong topical steroids. Sometimes, particularly in children, it gets better without further treatment.
It affects around 1.7% of adult females. In females, it typically occurs before puberty and after menopause. In males, it can occur at any age. African Americans are less frequently affected. Up to one third of females with LS have another autoimmune disease. Up to 17% have psoriasis. Lichen sclerosus et atrophicus was first described in 1887 by Dr. Hallopeau.
Signs and symptoms
LS can occur without symptoms. White patches on the LS body area, itching, pain, pain during sex (in genital LS), easier bruising, cracking, tearing and peeling, and hyperkeratosis are common symptoms in both men and women. In women, the condition most commonly occurs on the vulva and around the anus with ivory-white elevations that may be flat and glistening.
In males, the disease may take the form of whitish patches on the foreskin and its narrowing (preputial stenosis), forming an "indurated ring", which can make retraction more difficult or impossible (phimosis). In addition there can be lesions, white patches or reddening on the glans. In contrast to women, anal involvement is less frequent. Meatal stenosis, making it more difficult or even impossible to urinate, may also occur.
On the non-genital skin, the disease may manifest as porcelain-white spots with small visible plugs inside the orifices of hair follicles or sweat glands on the surface. Thinning of the skin may also occur.
Distress due to the discomfort and pain of Lichen Sclerosus is normal, as are concerns with self-esteem and sex. Counseling can help.
According to the National Vulvodynia Association, which also supports women with Lichen Sclerosus, vulvo-vaginal conditions can cause feelings of isolation, hopelessness, low self-image, and much more. Some women are unable to continue working or have sexual relations and may be limited in other physical activities. Depression, anxiety, and even anger are all normal responses to the ongoing pain LS patients suffer from.
Although it is not clear what causes LS, several theories have been postulated. Lichen Sclerosus is not contagious; it cannot be caught from another person.
Autoimmunity is a process in which the body fails to recognize itself and therefore attacks its own cells and tissue. Specific antibodies have been found in LS. Furthermore, there seems to be a higher prevalence of other autoimmune diseases such as diabetes mellitus type 1, vitiligo, alopecia areata, and thyroid disease.
Both bacterial as well as viral pathogens have been implicated in the etiology of LS. A disease that is similar to LS, acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans is caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi. Viral involvement of HPV and hepatitis C are also suspected.
Since LS in females is primarily found in women with a low estrogen state (prepubertal and postmenopausal women), hormonal influences were postulated. To date though, very little evidence has been found to support this theory.
Local skin changes
The disease often goes undiagnosed for several years, as it is sometimes not recognized and misdiagnosed as thrush or other problems and not correctly diagnosed until the patient is referred to a specialist when the problem does not clear up.
A biopsy of the affected skin can be done to confirm diagnosis. When a biopsy is done, hyperkeratosis, atrophic epidermis, sclerosis of dermis and lymphocyte activity in dermis are histological findings associated with LS. The biopsies are also checked for signs of dysplasia.
It has been noted that clinical diagnosis of BXO can be "almost unmistakable," though there are other dermatologic conditions such as lichen planus, localized scleroderma, leukoplakia, vitiligo, and the cutaneous rash of Lyme disease can have a similar appearance.
There is no definitive cure for LS. Behavior change is part of treatment. The patient should minimize or preferably stop scratching LS-affected skin. Any scratching, stress or damage to the skin can worsen the disease. Scratching has been theorized to increase cancer risks. Furthermore, the patient should wear comfortable clothes and avoid tight clothing, as it is a major factor in the severity of symptoms in some cases.
Topically applied corticosteroids to the LS-affected skin are the first-line treatment for lichen sclerosus in women and men, with strong evidence showing that they are "safe and effective" when appropriately applied, even over long courses of treatment, rarely causing serious adverse effects. They improve or suppress all symptoms for some time, which highly varies across patients, until it is required to use them again. Methylprednisolone aceponate has been used as a safe and effective corticosteroid for mild and moderate cases. For severe cases, it has been theorized that mometasone furoate might be safer and more effective than clobetasol. Recent studies have shown that topical calcineurin inhibitors such as tacrolimus can have an effect similar to corticosteroids, but its effects on cancer risks in LS are not conclusively known. Based on limited evidence, a 2011 Cochrane review concluded that clobetasol propionate, mometasone furoate, and pimecrolimus (calcineurin inhibitor) all are effective therapies in treating genital lichen sclerosus. However, randomized-controlled trials are needed to further identify the optimal potency and regimen of topical corticosteroids and assess the duration of remission and/or the prevention of flares patients experience with these topical therapies.
Continuous usage of appropriate doses of topical corticosteroids is required to ensure symptoms stay relieved over the patient's life time. If continuously used, corticosteroids have been suggested to minimize the risk of cancer in various studies. In a prospective longitudinal cohort study of 507 women throughout 6 years, cancer occurred for 4.7% of patients who were only "partially compliant" with corticosteroid treatment, while it occurred in 0% of cases where they were "fully compliant". In a second study, of 129 patients, cancer occurred in 11% of patients, none of which were fully compliant with corticosteroid treatment. Both these studies however also said that a corticosteroid as powerful as clobetasol is not necessary in most cases. In a prospective study of 83 patients, throughout 20 years, 8 patients developed cancer. 6 already had cancer at presentation and had not had treatment, while the other 2 were not taking corticosteroids often enough. In all three studies, every single cancer case observed occurred in patients who weren't taking corticosteroids as often as the study recommended.
Continuous, abundant usage of emollients topically applied to the LS-affected skin is recommended to improve symptoms. They can supplement but not replace corticosteroid therapy. They can be used much more frequently than corticosteroids due to the extreme rarity of serious adverse effects. Appropriate lubrication should be used every time before and during sex in genital LS in order to avoid pain and worsening the disease. Some oils such as olive oil and coconut oil can be used to accomplish both the emollient and sexual lubrication function.
In males, it has been reported that circumcision can have positive effects, but does not necessarily prevent further flares of the disease and does not protect against the possibility of cancer. Circumcision does not prevent or cure LS; in fact, "balanitis xerotica obliterans" in men was first reported as a condition affecting a set of circumcised men, by Stühmer in 1928.
Platelet rich plasma was reported to be effective in one study, producing large improvements in the patients' quality of life, with an average IGA improvement of 2.04 and DLQI improvement of 7.73.
The disease can last for a considerably long time. Occasionally, "spontaneous cure" may ensue, particularly in young girls.
Lichen sclerosus is associated with a higher risk of cancer. Skin that has been scarred as a result of lichen sclerosus is more likely to develop skin cancer. Women with lichen sclerosus may develop vulvar carcinoma. Lichen sclerosus is associated with 3–7% of all cases of vulvar squamous cell carcinoma. In women, it has been reported that 33.6 times higher vulvar cancer risk is associated with LS. A study in men reported that "The reported incidence of penile carcinoma in patients with BXO is 2.6–5.8%".
There is a bimodal age distribution in the incidence of LS in women. It occurs in females with an average age of diagnosis of 7.6 years in girls and 60 years old in women. The average age of diagnosis in boys is 9–11 years old.
In men, the most common age of incidence is 21-30.
In 1875, Weir reported what was possible vulvar or oral LS as "ichthyosis". In 1885, Breisky described kraurosis vulvae. In 1887, Hallopeau describes series of extragenital LS. In 1892, Darier formally describes classic histopathology of LS. From 1900 to present, the concept starts being formed that scleroderma and LS are closely related. In 1901, Pediatric LS was described. From 1913 to present, the concept that scleroderma is not closely related to LS also starts being formed. In 1920, Taussig establishes vulvectomy as treatment of choice for kraurosis vulvae, a premalignant condition. In 1927, Kyrle defines LS ("white spot disease") as entity sui generis. In 1928, Stühmer describes balanitis xerotica obliterans as postcircumcision phenomenon. In 1936, Retinoids (vitamin A) used in LS. In 1945, Testosterone used in genital LS. In 1961, the use of corticosteroids started. In Jeffcoate presents argument against vulvectomy for simple LS. In 1971, Progesterone used in LS, Wallace defines clinical factors and epidemiology of LS for all later reports. In 1976, Friedrich defines LS as a dystrophic, not atrophic condition; "et atrophicus" dropped. International Society for Study of Vulvar Disease classification system. "Kraurosis" and "leukoplakia" no longer to be used. In 1980, Fluourinated and superpotent steroids used in LS. In 1981, studies into HLA serotypes and LS. In 1984, Etretinate and acetretin used in LS. In 1987, LS linked with Borrelia infection.
Lichen sclerosus et atrophicus was first described in 1887 by Dr. Hallopeau.Since not all cases of lichen sclerosus exhibit atrophic tissue, et atrophicus was dropped in 1976 by the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD), officially proclaiming the name lichen sclerosus.
- Lichen planus
- List of cutaneous conditions
- List of cutaneous conditions associated with increased risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer
- List of human leukocyte antigen alleles associated with cutaneous conditions
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