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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Your Question

What are the early signs of cancer of the vulva if my sister has had leukoplakia there for 12 years?  Is biopsy necessary? Is there any medication for treatment of non-cancerous vulvar leukoplakia?

Our Answer

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What are the early signs of cancer in vulvar leukoplakia?

Early signs of cancer may not be apparent. The clinical appearance of leukoplakia does not generally correlate with its appearance when examined under a microscope. For example, the lesion may appear unchanged for a period of time but may actually show changes when looked at under a microscope. Therefore, a biopsy is typically recommended in all cases to determine which lesions are precancerous. Small lesions may be biopsied and just followed periodically if it is shown to remain benign. However, those that show precancerous or cancerous features should be removed.[1]
Last updated: 5/30/2012

Is a biopsy necesssary for vulvar leukoplakia?

A biopsy is recommended to determine whether the lesion is precancerous. The clinical appearance of the lesion does not necessarily correlate with the histopathologic change (changes apparent when examined under a microscope); therefore, a biopsy is the only way to correctly classify the lesion.[1]
Last updated: 5/30/2012

How might vulvar leukoplakia be treated?

If the lesion is thought to be caused by irritation, it often regresses or clears on its own after the source of irritation is removed. If the lesion causes discomfort or is thought to be precancerous, it may be surgically removed. It has also been reported that leukoplakia of the vulva may be successfully treated with 5-FU.[1]
Last updated: 5/30/2012

  • Thomas P. Habif. Chapter 21 - Premalignant and Malignant Nonmelanoma Skin Tumors. Clinical Dermatology, 5th ed. Mosby, An Imprint of Elsevier ; 2010;