Erythroplakia: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

If you see an odd looking red patch inside of your mouth, should you worry? Maybe, maybe not -- it depends on exactly what the patch looks like. If it looks like it might be erythroplakia, you should definitely go see a doctor.

What is Erythroplakia?

You know how everyone tells you that if you see a mole or a freckle on your body start to take on an odd shape or color, you should go see the doctor right away? That's good advice, as it could be a sign of a serious melanoma. But your skin isn't the only thing you should keep tabs on. If you see a strange shape and color on the mucous membranes of your mouth, that may be a problem worth checking out right away, too.

Mucous membranes are tissues that line a body cavity and secrete mucus, and we have them in many places in our bodies. The mucous membrane in the mouth is visible - all you have to do is open wide in front of a mirror and say 'Aaaah.' You'll have an up-close view of all those red and moist membranes in your mouth.

One of the possible causes for a strange shape or color in your mouth is something called erythroplakia, which is just a big word for a red patch inside of the mouth that may be representative of the development of oral cancer. The word itself comes from erythro-, which means red, and -plakia, which denotes a flat plane of some sort.

Signs and Symptoms of Erythroplakia

So what does erythroplakia looks like? Well, there are several things to look out for:

  • A red, homogenous, patch-like area on the mucosal surface
  • A smooth, velvety, or finely granular appearance to this area
  • Relatively slow-growing in nature
  • Lack of ulceration (bleeding) unless scraped
  • At least early on, the absence of pain in the area in question
  • Well-defined margins

The last two points are actually very important to note. Most often, we're accustomed to something being painful as alarming and something that's not painful as being less alarming. However, there are plenty of instances where something that isn't painful is potentially more deadly than something that is.

On that note, I'd like to repeat two things here with respect to erythroplakia: at least early on, there is an absence of pain and the patch-like area has well-defined margins. This must be contrasted from an inflammatory process occurring in the mouth. An inflammatory process is more likely to be painful and is less likely to have clearly defined margins (borders).

In the case of erythroplakia, such a lesion represents the potential for a cancerous process as opposed to an inflammatory one. By lesion, I mean some sort of pathological change in a tissue.

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