In medicine, the term erythroplasia refers to a precancerous stage of the skin or, in particular, of the genital mucous membranes. In most cases this is caused by a previous infection with papillomaviruses. If left untreated, erythroplasia can develop into serious cancer.
What is erythroplasia?
According to photionary.com, erythroplasia is a skin disease that occurs primarily on the human genitals. Alternatively, it can also affect the mucous membranes in the mouth, for example.
The affected areas of the skin show a deep reddening that spreads from initially small areas to ever larger areas. Complaints are usually barely noticed. Erythroplasia is what is known as a precancerous stage, which means that in the worst case scenario it can become serious cancer.
Since erythroplasia visually resembles Bowen’s disease, also a precancerous stage, it can easily lead to misdiagnosis without a comprehensive examination. Erythroplasia must always be treated medically in order to prevent a significant deterioration in the state of health.
In many cases, the causes of erythroplasia lie in a previous infection with papillomaviruses.
These are usually transmitted through sexual contact and can thus affect the genitals or the oral mucosa. There they trigger a tumor-like growth of the cells. The resulting tumors do not have to be malignant and usually lead to the development of warts. Under certain circumstances, however, they can develop into cancer, which can then be life-threatening.
This happens especially when the immune system is already weakened. In some cases, however, erythroplasia can also be caused by poor personal hygiene. In this way, it is not uncommon for chronic inflammations to develop in the genitals, which can later develop into erythroplasia.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
In the worst case, erythroplasia can lead to complete cancer, which can also lead to the death of the person concerned. However, this case only occurs when the erythroplasia is not treated at all. Those affected primarily suffer from red spots that appear in the affected region.
The spots themselves are relatively large and limited. They can also have a negative effect on the aesthetics of the person concerned and lead to psychological upset or even to depression. On the glans penis, erythroplasia can cause pain that occurs during intercourse or pain when urinating. As a rule, men in particular are affected by the disease and suffer from these complaints.
Erythroplasia occurs very rarely at the entrance to the vagina. If the erythroplasia is still not treated, skin cancer usually develops from it, which continues to spread and can lead to metastasis in the body. Some symptoms also occur when the person is dependent on chemotherapy, which is associated with severe side effects. Cancer itself can also lead to severe depression or psychological complaints.
Diagnosis & course
The suspicion of erythroplasia can already be based on the first visual impression the treating doctor has of the reddening of the skin. However, to determine whether it is really erythroplasia and not Bowen’s disease, a tissue sample must be taken.
This biopsy provides information about the exact type and cause of the disease, whereupon the doctor can initiate appropriate therapy. If erythroplasia is left untreated, it can develop into cancer and thus significantly worsen the patient’s state of health. If metastases form and spread through the body, this condition can become life-threatening.
When should you go to the doctor?
If the characteristic reddish spots are noticed on the glans or at the vaginal entrance, a visit to a doctor is recommended. Immediate clarification is necessary if the reddening of the oral mucosa is noticed. Other skin changes that cannot be traced back to a specific cause also require an examination. The symptoms should be clarified and treated if they have not subsided after two to three days at the latest. In the event of redness in other parts of the body, the nearest doctor’s office should be consulted immediately.
Erythroplasia is often associated with papillomavirus infection. People who have this infection should not wait to see a doctor if they have mentioned symptoms. It is advisable to make an appointment with the urologist or gynecologist on the same day and have the symptoms examined. After the treatment, the following applies: Carry out the prescribed check-ups and speak to the responsible doctor if there are new skin changes. A relapse must be clarified quickly, otherwise there is a risk of skin cancer.
Treatment & Therapy
If erythroplasia has been clearly diagnosed on the basis of a tissue biopsy, the attending physician will initiate appropriate therapy as soon as possible. First and foremost, the spread of the disease must be prevented so that it cannot develop into cancer.
Therefore, the cells that cause the skin changes must be prevented from growing and removed from the body. Since the genitals are mostly affected, surgical removal of the affected areas of the skin is very difficult and can usually only be carried out to a limited extent. Instead, targeted radiation therapy is carried out, which eliminates the responsible cells. In this way it can be ensured that there is no scatter.
In any case, the surrounding lymph nodes must also be carefully examined to rule out that the cells have already reached them. If metastases are found in the lymph nodes, the disease is cancer and there is a high likelihood that chemotherapy will be required. In addition, the affected lymph node is removed. This prevents the cancer cells from growing and spreading further in the body. Basically, the earlier erythroplasia is diagnosed and treated, the more likely a complete cure is.
Outlook & forecast
Erythroplasia is a malignant tissue that can lead to skin cancer. The prognosis is good if the condition is recognized and treated early on. Then it is possible that metastases have not yet formed and the changed tissue can be completely removed. There is a risk that a relapse will develop in the same place, which will have to be determined again and surgically removed.
If the erythroplasia has already caused skin cancer, the prognosis is relatively poor. The cancer spreads rapidly to the surrounding areas and can attack and destroy skin tissue, muscles, bones and internal organs. Regular check-ups by your family doctor are essential in order to remove erythroplasia at an early stage before it develops into skin cancer.
In the absence of treatment, erythroplasia or the skin cancer resulting from it is always fatal. The disease then spreads to the entire body and causes a wide variety of symptoms and ailments over the course of the process. These severely limit the quality of life and well-being and ultimately lead to organ failure and thus to the death of the patient. Therefore, the symptoms described should be clarified immediately, if possible before the erythroplasia turns into skin cancer.
Since erythroplasia is often caused by papillomaviruses, you should always pay attention to the appropriate contraceptive measures during sexual contact. Adequate personal hygiene, especially in the genital area, should also be a matter of course. A healthy lifestyle, which also contributes to a functioning immune system, can also have positive effects.
If the above-described redness is noticed on the genitals or the oral mucosa, it is advisable to consult a doctor as soon as possible. He or she can carry out an examination and, if necessary, start therapy before cancer actually develops.
With erythroplasia, those affected have only very limited options for follow-up care. First and foremost, early diagnosis of this disease must be carried out to prevent the tumor from spreading further in the body. The earlier the erythroplasia is detected, the better the further course will usually be.
The treatment is usually carried out using radiation therapy. The person concerned is primarily dependent on the support and care of their own family in order to prevent psychological complaints. Since metastases can also develop as a result of the disease, regular examinations should be carried out by a doctor even after the tumor has been successfully removed in order to detect other tumors as well.
Some sufferers are dependent on chemotherapy, although they also need the help and support of family and friends. Contact with other erythroplasia patients can also be useful, as this can lead to an exchange of information. In many cases, the life expectancy of the person affected is limited by the disease. In general, a healthy lifestyle with a healthy diet also has a positive effect on the further course.
You can do that yourself
To prevent erythroplasia, it is advisable for the patient to take part in regular check-ups with a doctor. This gives him the best protection, as the presence of a papillomavirus is detected at an early stage during the examinations.
Sexual contact should only take place with condoms. All other contraceptive methods do not offer the necessary protection against transmission. In addition, male and female oral sex should be avoided. The protective measures reduce the likelihood of the virus being transmitted by about 50 percent.
In a long-term relationship, it is advisable that both partners get examined before unprotected sexual contact and get tested for the presence of the virus. A doctor must be consulted at the first changes in the appearance of the skin in the genital area or on the mucous membranes in the mouth.
The organism’s self-healing powers are not sufficient to alleviate the symptoms. The patient is well advised if he does not allow unnecessary time to pass, as cancer threatens to break out. If the patient is found to have the virus, any sexual partners should be informed as soon as possible. The virus is spreading quickly and should be prevented from doing so if possible.