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What is Erythroplakia?

Erythroplakia is a rare but potentially serious condition, characterized by red patches on the mucous membranes in the mouth, which can signal precancerous changes. These patches are often smooth, velvety, and may bleed when scraped. Understanding erythroplakia is crucial for early detection and prevention of oral cancers. Curious about how to spot and address this condition? Keep reading to learn more.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

After a biopsy has been taken, it is examined in a laboratory by a pathologist.
After a biopsy has been taken, it is examined in a laboratory by a pathologist.

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.

Alcohol and tobacco use are two common causes of erythroplakia.
Alcohol and tobacco use are two common causes of erythroplakia.

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 dentist may be consulted to treat leukoplakia.
A dentist may be consulted to treat leukoplakia.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon969470

What kind of doctor should you visit if you think you have this condition? I went to a dentist but he wasn't able to do anything about it.

bear78

@alisha-- I think the percentage that you gave is not accurate. Technically, erythroplakia is a red lesion in the mouth that cannot be medically identified as anything else. So erythroplakia symptoms don't have to be a sign of cancer.

discographer
@ankara-- First of all, erythroplakia or leukoplakia are not a cause of cancer, but more like pre-cancerous symptoms.

The last I checked, close to half of people who have chronic erythroplakia end up with oral cancer. So no one can say for sure whether the erythroplakia in your mouth will develop into cancerous tumors or not. But I don't think it's a good idea to take that risk. I personally would follow my doctor's advice and have them removed. Believe me, having erythroplakia removed now is much better than getting tongue ulcer treatment later on.

There is not much difference between erythroplakia and leukoplakia aside from their appearance. I'm not a doctor but I don't think one is more prone to developing into cancer than the other.

By the way, do you smoke or chew tobacco? If you do, you have to quit immediately.

bluedolphin

Is the risk of cancer from erythroplakia greater than the risk of cancer from leukoplakia?

I have both types of lesions in my mouth. My doctor wants to remove all of them. I'm not sure if I want to have them removed because won't there be holes in my mouth afterward? If erythroplakia has a greater risk of cancer, then I might just have those removed. I don't want mouth or tongue cancer.

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    • After a biopsy has been taken, it is examined in a laboratory by a pathologist.
      By: nandyphotos
      After a biopsy has been taken, it is examined in a laboratory by a pathologist.
    • Alcohol and tobacco use are two common causes of erythroplakia.
      By: Simone van den Berg
      Alcohol and tobacco use are two common causes of erythroplakia.
    • A dentist may be consulted to treat leukoplakia.
      By: Igor Mojzes
      A dentist may be consulted to treat leukoplakia.
    • Erythroplakia is a pre-cancerous lesion of the mouth.
      By: snapgalleria
      Erythroplakia is a pre-cancerous lesion of the mouth.