Smokeless Tobacco Lesions Clinical Presentation

Updated: Jun 25, 2018
  • Author: Carol E Cheng, MD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
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Patients may present asymptomatically, admitting only to the use of smokeless tobacco or to the presence of other predisposing risk factors (eg, use of alcohol, exposure to chronic irritants) for premalignant and cancerous lesions. In more advanced disease, patients may report pain, swelling, or dysphagia.


Physical Examination


Gingivitis appears as inflammation and swelling of the gums that may associated with redness and bleeding. Gums may be tender when touched.


Leukoplakia refers to a filmy white or yellow patch involving the oral mucosa. The patch may appear translucent or opaque and raised or ulcerated. It may be pumicelike. Leukoplakia is a clinically descriptive term, and other diseases must be ruled out. [43]


Erythroplasia appears as a patch with varying degrees of erythema. It most commonly occurs on the floor of the mouth.

Speckled leukoplakia

The lesions are white patches with interspersed areas of erythema. Two thirds of the lesions are located on the buccal mucosa; the tumors are commonly nodular.

Tobacco-associated keratosis

Tobacco-associated keratosis is an ill-defined area of white thickening at the sites where oral smokeless tobacco is habitually placed; most commonly, these areas involve the mandibular labial and buccal mucosal folds. The continued use of smokeless tobacco causes the affected areas to become corrugated and grayer.

Verrucous carcinoma

The lesions appear as exophytic growths with papillary projections, they may be large at the time of diagnosis, and they can cause local tissue destruction. They appear rough surfaced with a broad-base attachment.

Squamous cell carcinoma

The lesions usually have a mixed red and white appearance, with ulceration or inflammation in some cases. The lesions are most commonly found on the floor of the mouth and on the ventral and lateral surfaces of the tongue. Those cancers associated with smokeless tobacco may arise in differing locations associated with quid placement and/or the buccal folds. Swelling or induration is characteristic of invasive growth.