Lichen sclerosus (LS) is a chronic, inflammatory skin disease of unknown cause, commonly appearing as whitish patches on the genitals, which can affect any body part of any person but has a strong preference for the genitals (penis, vulva) and is also known as balanitis xerotica obliterans (BXO) when it affects the penis. Lichen sclerosus is not contagious. There is a well-documented increase of skin cancer risk in LS, potentially improvable with treatment.
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.
Several risk factors have been proposed, including autoimmune diseases, infections and genetic predisposition. There is evidence that LS can be associated with thyroid disease.
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.
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.
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%".
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