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Lichen Sclerosus et Atrophicus

  • Author: Jeffrey Meffert, MD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
Updated: Feb 24, 2016


Lichen sclerosus (LS) is a chronic inflammatory dermatosis that results in white plaques with epidermal atrophy and scarring. Lichen sclerosus has both genital and extragenital presentations and also goes by the names lichen sclerosus et atrophicus (dermatological literature), balanitis xerotica obliterans (glans penis presentation), and kraurosis vulvae (older description of vulvar presentation). An increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma may exist in genital disease, but the precise increase in risk and what cofactors (human papillomavirus infection or prior radiotherapy) may be involved are not yet completely defined. In patients who have been treated for vulvar cancer, the presence or absence of lichen sclerosus does not appear to affect the timing of recurrence. In large series, genital presentations, both vulvar and penile, outnumber extragenital reports by more than 5:1.



Inflammation and altered fibroblast function in the papillary dermis leads to fibrosis of the upper dermis. Genital skin and mucosa are affected most frequently, but extragenital lichen sclerosus does occur, and even rare oral presentations are reported. The role that hypoxia and ischemia have in the initial cellular and vascular damage is supported by the finding of increased glut-1 and decreased vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression in affected skin.[1] The effect of cell-mediated cytotoxicity has been better defined at the biochemical level.[2] Systemic disease or involvement of other organ systems, unlike scleroderma, is not described, although many more authors are describing lichen sclerosus and scleroderma as closely related entities; many cases of coexistent lichen sclerosus/scleroderma having been reported.




The population rate is unknown. Male genital lichen sclerosus is seen almost exclusively in uncircumcised or incompletely circumcised men and boys. The rate of circumcision in a given population would thus influence the rate in this subset.


Lichen sclerosus, both genital and extragenital, has no known racial predilection. A genetic predisposition, based on family clustering, is apparent.[3]


The male-to-female ratio is 1:6, with female genital cases making up the bulk of reports.


Up to 15% of cases are in children with the majority being vulvar presentations. A study of foreskins submitted after therapeutic circumcision for phimosis revealed many cases of unrecognized lichen sclerosus. Extragenital lichen sclerosus is rare in children.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Jeffrey Meffert, MD Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology, University of Texas School of Medicine at San Antonio

Jeffrey Meffert, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American Medical Association, Association of Military Dermatologists, Texas Dermatological Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Edward F Chan, MD Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Edward F Chan, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American Society of Dermatopathology, Society for Investigative Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

William D James, MD Paul R Gross Professor of Dermatology, Vice-Chairman, Residency Program Director, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

William D James, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, Society for Investigative Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Joshua A Zeichner, MD Assistant Professor, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research, Mount Sinai School of Medicine; Chief of Dermatology, Institute for Family Health at North General

Joshua A Zeichner, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, National Psoriasis Foundation

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from Valeant for consulting; Received grant/research funds from Medicis for other; Received consulting fee from Galderma for consulting; Received consulting fee from Promius for consulting; Received consulting fee from Pharmaderm for consulting; Received consulting fee from Onset for consulting.

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Lichen sclerosus demonstrating classic hourglass or figure 8 vulvar and perianal distribution. Courtesy of Wilford Hall Medical Center slide files.
Extragenital lichen sclerosus demonstrating coalescing pitted white papules. Courtesy of Wilford Hall Medical Center slide files.
Typical lichen sclerosus histology demonstrating homogenized edematous papillary (upper) dermis and effaced epidermis.
More advanced vulvar lichen sclerosus; eroded areas need to be carefully examined and a biopsy sample should be taken to exclude coexistent squamous cell carcinoma. Courtesy of Wilford Hall Medical Center Dermatology slide files.
Male genital lichen sclerosus may present with a sclerotic ring at the edge of the prepuce or anywhere on the glans itself. Advanced disease at the urethral os may lead to urinary obstruction. Courtesy of Wilford Hall Medical Center Dermatology Slide files.
Late lichen sclerosus may show less edema in the upper dermis and more sclerosis throughout the dermis. Involvement of the lower dermis or fat may occur in lichen sclerosus/scleroderma overlap presentations.
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