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What Are the Different Types of Lip Disease?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lip disease is a condition characterized by the formation of a lesion or ulcerated tissue on the lips. There are different types of diseases of the lips whose signs and symptoms vary in severity and presentation. From canker sores, which are fairly innocuous, to cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus, lip disease can cause discomfort and inconvenience. Of the different lip diseases, lip cancer is the most serious, often requiring surgery and post-operational, anticancer therapies. Treatment can range from the use of mouth rinses and topical creams to antiviral medications.

Of the lip diseases, canker sores are the most benign and easy to treat. Canker sores may be caused by a variety of factors, including trauma to the lip, allergies, and an overactive immune system. Sometimes mistaken for a cold sore, a canker sore is often light colored and oval shaped. Canker sores may emerge as a solitary sore or in clusters and take up to a couple weeks to completely heal. It is not uncommon for a canker sore to cause one to experience a fever and feel fatigued.

Similar to a canker sore in appearance, a cold sore results from a reactivation of the herpes simplex virus in one’s system during times of stress, illness, or overexposure to sunlight. A cold sore, also called a fever blister, is often considered painful and lasts for up two weeks before subsiding. The sore emerges as a blister and the surrounding area is often inflamed and tender.

Although both canker and cold sores may be preceded by tingling or burning prior to sore emergence, only canker sores are considered not contagious. It is important to remember that cold sores are contagious and generally emerge in the same location where initial exposure to the herpes virus occurred. Another differentiation is that cold sores form on the lips, whereas canker sores are usually confined to the soft tissues of the inside of the mouth and gums.

Canker sores may be treated with medicated mouth rinse or topical creams to alleviate inflammation and ease pain. In some cases, an oral, steroidal medication may be prescribed to ease symptoms. Cold sores can necessitate an antiviral medication to alleviate symptoms. Often, a topical treatment may also be given to reduce discomfort and speed healing.

The most serious type of lip disease is lip cancer. A member of the family of oral cancers, lip cancer has been linked to the use of tobacco and alcohol products. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, other factors that may increase one’s risk for lip cancer include human papilloma virus infection (HPV) and poor oral hygiene.

Lip cancer often presents as a white patch, lesion, or ulcer. Individuals with lip cancer may not experience pain initially, but as the disease progresses several signs may occur. Difficulty chewing or speaking, tissue discoloration in the affected area, and painful swallowing are not uncommon. A biopsy is often performed to discount or confirm malignancy. Treatment for lip cancer often involves the excision of the affected tissue and the administration of anticancer therapies, including chemo and radiation.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon988163 — On Feb 09, 2015

The description is suggestive of exfoliative cheilitis. Stop licking your lips and apply lip moisturizer, preferably water base type. Also, if you are mouth breathing, lips can become dry and inflamed.

By anon973974 — On Oct 14, 2014

I have a sort of thing by my lip. I don't know what it is. I've barely had any girlfriends and I'm worried it could be contagious.

By tamzid — On Jun 28, 2013

I'm a 19 year old boy. Both of my lips are always dry. I feel very uneasy about that. The skin of my lips changes again and again. It happens regularly. Now I'm very frustrated. I was under the treatment of a skin specialist and a homeopathic doctor, but there was no change. I've also noticed that I've no pain there. Please give me any solutions now.

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