The cause of lichen sclerosis is unknown, but it may involve the immune system attacking some of the body's own tissues (called an autoimmune disorder Autoimmune Disorders An autoimmune disorder is a malfunction of the body's immune system that causes the body to attack its own tissues. What triggers autoimmune disorders is not known. Symptoms vary depending on... read more ). This disorder typically affects the area around the anus and genitals, but it can rarely be found on other areas of the body.
At first, the skin around the anus and genitals tends to bruise and may blister. Itching, sometimes severe, is typical. After some time, the skin can thin, lose its normal color, and develop cracks and scales. In some people, the disorder develops differently, causing skin thickening. Eventually, any form of lichen sclerosus that is chronic can scar, causing distortion of the normal structures of the area. Sometimes the appearance of lichen sclerosus in a child can resemble the effects of sexual abuse. Rarely, squamous cell carcinoma Squamous Cell Carcinoma Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer that begins in the squamous cells of the skin. Thick, scaly growths appear on the skin and do not heal. To diagnose the cancer, doctors do a biopsy. Treatment... read more (a skin cancer) develops in areas that have been affected by lichen sclerosus for a long time.
Doctors typically base the diagnosis of lichen sclerosus on how the rash looks and where it appears on the body.
Occasionally, doctors do a biopsy (examination of a tissue sample under a microscope) of any thickened skin to rule out squamous cell carcinoma Squamous Cell Carcinoma Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer that begins in the squamous cells of the skin. Thick, scaly growths appear on the skin and do not heal. To diagnose the cancer, doctors do a biopsy. Treatment... read more (a skin cancer).
Strong corticosteroid creams Anti-inflammatory agents Topical drugs (drugs applied directly to the skin) are a mainstay of treating skin disorders. Systemic drugs are taken by mouth or given by injection and are distributed throughout the body... read more or ointments are applied to the skin.
Because this disorder is typically incurable and causes scarring, people are treated long-term and examined periodically for skin cancer.