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Leukoplakia

Clinical Overview


Reviewed by: Dr. Kristen Dority

Leukoplakia is primarily a disorder of the mucous membranes of the mouth caused by some type of chronic irritation. Thick white or gray lesions that are slightly raised and have a hardened surface develop slowly. They are usually on the tongue but may also appear on the insides of the cheek. “Hairy” leukoplakia, in which white fuzzy patches form on the tongue, is often a sign of HIV infection. Irritation may result from rough teeth or rough places on dentures, fillings, and crowns. Smoking or other tobacco use also can contribute to the development of leukoplakia. Pipe smoking involves a particularly high risk for leukoplakia, as does holding chewing tobacco or snuff in the mouth for prolonged periods of time. Although a pre-cancerous condition, only approximately 10 percent of leukoplakia lesions develop into cancers. Generally, lesions, which are common in the elderly, clear in a few weeks or months after the source of irritation is removed. A biopsy is generally performed if leukoplakia persists longer than two weeks and injury/irritation are ruled out.

Last updated: May-03-07

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