Lichen sclerosus

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Lichen sclerosus is a skin problem that causes thin, wrinkled patches that are itchy and painful. The patches often look white in lighter skin. In darker skin, the patches may be lighter or darker than the skin around them. If the skin tears, bright red or purple spots may appear.

Doctors don't know the exact cause of this problem. But genetics, autoimmune diseases, and changes in hormone levels may be part of the reason. It is not caused by an infection and is not contagious.

Anyone can get lichen sclerosus, but people who have gone through menopause are more likely to get it.

This skin problem can affect any part of the body. But in most cases, it occurs on the skin of the anus (the opening where stool leaves the body), the vulva (the area around the vagina), and the tip of an uncircumcised penis.

If the skin patches are on the anus, vulva, or penis, treatment is important to prevent problems. If these areas aren't treated, the skin can thin, tear, and bleed. This can be painful. Untreated lichen sclerosus can also cause severe itching and scarring. The openings to the vagina and anus can narrow, and the foreskin over the penis may tighten and shrink. This scarring is permanent and can make going to the bathroom and having sex painful.

Lichen sclerosis on the genitals can also increase the risk of skin cancer. Regular skin exams are recommended.

Lichen sclerosus can be treated with strong, medicated creams or with a prescription medicine. In most cases, surgery to remove the foreskin is the recommended treatment for lichen sclerosus on the tip of the penis.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.