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Erythroplakia is a reddish patch of tissue in the mouth. It is often brighter than the surrounding oral mucosa, with clearly defined edges, and it will usually bleed freely. This type of oral lesion is considered precancerous and can be a cause for concern. When a doctor identifies erythroplakia, the recommendation is usually to take a biopsy sample to learn more about what is going on inside the mouth.
Sometimes, patients may notice the patches on their own while caring for their teeth. They can show up on or under the tongue and along the gums and may have a glossy or velvety surface. The growth can be tender and irritated. If it doesn't resolve independently within a week or so, this is a sign that permanent tissue changes are happening inside the mouth, and the lesion needs to be evaluated to determine the level of risk it presents to the patient. Especially if there is a family history of cancers involving the mouth or mucus membranes, tissue changes are a cause for concern.
In an erythroplakia biopsy, a doctor can take a scraping or may decide to go ahead and excise the entire growth. Taking the whole growth does provide some advantages, because if it turns out to be malignant, the doctor has already taken the first step in treatment by removing it. A pathologist will examine the sample in a lab and determine what kinds of cells are involved and whether they are cancerous or precancerous. If the erythroplakia is precancerous, monitoring is recommended to identify malignant growths in the mouth as early as possible.
Causes of erythroplakia can include alcohol and tobacco use, exposure to harsh chemicals, and heavy amounts of ultraviolet exposure. Sometimes, there is no clear cause in a patient and the lesion is the result of a spontaneous mutation. Mucus membranes usually have high cell turnover, as they are constantly renewing themselves, and this creates a number of opportunities for malignant cells to develop and gain a foothold.
A related medical issue is leukoplakia, where white patches form in the mouth. Sometimes, patients exhibit both conditions. In either case, medical evaluation of the lesion is strongly recommended, preferably as early as possible. If growths are malignant, they will be more responsive to treatment when they are caught early. Growths in the mouth can expose people to significant risks of metastasis and it is important to treat them appropriately.