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Leukoplakia is a disease that is not very recognizable. People who are diagnosed with it often feel confused, surprised, and scared precisely because they have not heard anything about the disease before.
From Greek, the name means “white plaque.” Leukoplakia can develop for years without any symptoms. The diagnosis can be made after accidental detection during a check-up, but very often the presence of lesions goes unnoticed.
In simple terms, this is a long process during which there is a change in the natural method of cell division and they begin to form atypical zones due to various factors. These areas gradually grow and the epithelium of the mucosa becomes thickened. Patches of various sizes and shapes are formed that are different in nature.
The most common type is homogeneous leukoplakia. It develops as uniform light, almost white, lesions of any size.
Proliferative verrucous leukoplakia is a multifocal lesion with a keratotic exophytic surface that resembles a wart
Erosive leukoplakia is characterized by the presence of ulcers on the surface and cracked tissue, and leads to erosion of the affected areas. They are easily inflamed, which prompts patients to seek medical help, and so they can be diagnosed with the disease at an earlier stage.
Hairy leukoplakia is usually developed in patients suffering from diseases with pronounced immune deficiency. Examples of such conditions are HIV, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and some autoimmune diseases. Contrary to its name, this leukoplakia is not covered with hair at all, but is rather characterized by an uneven and painful surface.
In this case, the gums, cheeks, lips, palate, and tongue are affected. Often, the reason is the excessive use of all kinds of tobacco products, as well as low-quality alcoholic beverages. Sometimes, as a result of dental problems, small wounds can appear that gradually grow into lesions. Do not underestimate the consequences of wearing uncomfortable dentures that cause wounds. They can also create a favorable environment for development of lesions.
It is possible for lesions to appear on the penis, which is often caused by human papillomavirus infection. However, lesions on the labia majora in women during and after menopause are more common. The lack of symptoms and infrequent visits to a gynecologist contribute to the development of leukoplakia. The disease can also affect the cervix, causing it to thicken. The primary cause could be both mechanical trauma and papillomavirus or hormonal imbalance.
Regardless of where the lesion has started to develop, the condition causes hardening of the mucous membranes and leads to a precancerous condition. Affected areas appear in response to external causes such as candidiasis, deficiency of certain vitamins, as well as the above-mentioned tobacco, alcohol, HPV, etc.
In order to make an accurate diagnosis, it is necessary to take tissue from the affected area to be examined (biopsy and histology). The result clarifies whether the process has progressed to the level of cancer. The probability of such an unfavorable development varies from 1% to 20%. That is why, it is essential that you consult a gynecologist or an ENT specialist if you notice atypical changes in the genital area or inside the mouth. Keep in mind that even experienced gynecologists may miss the symptoms of an ongoing lesion formation. Seek a specialist to perform a colposcopy. The examination itself is not painful. During colposcopy, a solution of vinegar or another type of solution is applied to the area. The affected areas reflect the light from the colposcope in a different way, which helps the doctor distinguish them from healthy tissue. In order to make the correct diagnosis, the doctor may perform a biopsy.
Treatment often requires surgery, but less invasive methods such as freezing (cryoablation) or laser treatment are also possible. The recovery period is short and goes smoothly, without any problems for the patient. Following recovery, it is important to schedule regular check-ups in order to prevent recurrences.