It refers to a health condition which leads to the formation of thick, white patches on mainly the internal linings of the body. These patches don’t get scraped off easily. The white area is adherent to the underlying tissue and attempts to remove it forcibly cause bleeding. Though these occur mostly in the tongue and lining of the mouth, leukoplakia can also affect other areas like the bladder, urinary tract, penis, cervix or vagina as well.

While it is noncancerous, some leukoplakia can exhibit some signs of cancer (Early cancer changes is present in only about 10–20% of leukoplakia). Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict clinically which lesions will be worrisome and which ones are harmless. Hence, often a biopsy is done to rule out cancer. An often used clinically clue is that if ulceration or red areas are seen within the white area, the lesion is most likely cancerous.

The signs and symptoms of leukoplakia are quite easy to detect, but they can go unnoticed as they are often without any symptoms. The patches of leukoplakia can look different from the rest of the area and this brings most patients to the doctor. The surface is generally glistening but at times it is a thick, rough, elevated area. In the mouth which is the commonest area for leukoplakia, lips, gums, cheeks, and edges of the tongue are the most common sites. Following are some of the features they may have:

  • White, whitish yellow or grey in color
  • Have thick and hard surface
  • Raised with red lesions

Anyone who experiences such symptoms should consult a doctor to avoid any serious complication. Depending upon the condition, the doctor will opt for a suitable leukoplakia treatment.


The exact cause of leukoplakia is still unknown. However, there are some risk factors associated with the occurrence of leukoplakia. Some of them are listed below:

  • Tobacco: People who use tobacco are at higher risk of leukoplakia and oral cancer as well. Many people with leukoplakia have a history of tobacco use.
  • Smoking: Chronic smoking also leads to an increased risk of leukoplakia.
  • Alcohol: Long-term alcohol consumption is also associated with the occurrence of this condition.
  • Areca or betel nut chewing
  • Chronic irritation: This is a benign form that is usually a response to chronic irritation (poorly fitting dentures, sharp and chipped teeth) and that has very little chance of conversion into the cancerous form.

Some other risk factors include HIV/AIDS, ultraviolet radiation, rough and uneven teeth, injury in the mouth or improperly fitted dentures.


Oral exam is the first test a doctor conducts to diagnose leukoplakia. The doctor may also perform a biopsy to rule out the possibility of oral cancer. During a biopsy, the doctor removes a small piece of tissue from the affected area and sends it to the lab for further examination.


As mentioned above, some leukoplakia patches are harmless and can improve without any treatment. On a biopsy if abnormal changes are observed, the patches are then removed by a doctor using laser therapy or other methods of destruction of the affected area. Often, if the affected area is small, the entire affected is removed in one go and sample sent for biopsy, hence reducing the need for 2 procedures. The use of tobacco should be stopped, and proper dental care obtained.


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