Merck Manual

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Lichen Sclerosus


Shinjita Das

, MD, Harvard Medical School

Reviewed/Revised Sep 2023
Topic Resources

Lichen sclerosus is an inflammatory dermatosis of unknown cause, possibly autoimmune, that usually affects the anogenital area. Diagnosis is usually clinical and supported by skin biopsy. Treatment is with potent topical corticosteroids.

The earliest signs are skin fragility, bruising, and sometimes blistering. Lesions typically cause mild to severe itching. When lichen sclerosus manifests in children, the appearance may be confused with sexual abuse. With time, the involved tissue becomes atrophic, thinned, hypopigmented (there may be flecks of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation), fissured, and scaly. Hyperkeratotic and fibrotic forms exist.

Severe and longstanding cases cause scarring and distortion or absorption of normal anogenital architecture. In women, this distortion can even lead to total destruction of the labia minora and clitoris. In men, phimosis or fusion of the foreskin to the coronal sulcus can occur.

Manifestations of Lichen Sclerosus

Diagnosis of Lichen Sclerosus

  • Clinical evaluation

  • Sometimes biopsy

Diagnosis of lichen sclerosus can usually be based on appearance, especially in advanced cases; however, biopsy should be done on any anogenital dermatosis that does not resolve with mild conventional therapy (eg, topical hydrocortisone, antifungal medication). It is especially important to biopsy any area that becomes thickened or ulcerated, because lichen sclerosus is associated with an increased frequency of squamous cell carcinoma Diagnosis Squamous cell carcinoma is a malignant tumor of epidermal keratinocytes that invades the dermis; this cancer usually occurs in sun-exposed areas. Local destruction may be extensive, and metastases... read more Diagnosis (1 Diagnosis reference Lichen sclerosus is an inflammatory dermatosis of unknown cause, possibly autoimmune, that usually affects the anogenital area. Diagnosis is usually clinical and supported by skin biopsy. Treatment... read more Diagnosis reference ).

Diagnosis reference

  • 1. Leis M, Singh A, Li C, et al: Risk of vulvar squamous cell carcinoma in lichen sclerosus and lichen planus: A systematic review. J Obstet Gynaecol Can 44(2):182–192, 2022. doi: 10.1016/j.jogc.2021.09.023

Treatment of Lichen Sclerosus

  • Topical corticosteroids

Treatment of lichen sclerosus consists of potent topical corticosteroids (medications that otherwise should be used with extreme caution in this area). The disease is generally intractable, so long-term treatment and follow-up are necessary.

Monitoring for squamous cell carcinoma and sexual dysfunction and providing psychologic support are indicated.

Key Points

  • Lichen sclerosus can cause anogenital bruising, itching, or blistering early, and atrophy and scarring later.

  • Consider the diagnosis with any persistent anogenital dermatosis.

  • Treat with long-term, high-potency topical corticosteroids, close monitoring, and sexual and psychologic support.

  • Risk of subsequent squamous cell carcinoma is increased.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
A-Hydrocort, Ala-Cort, Ala-Scalp, Alkindi, Anucort-HC, Anumed-HC, Anusol HC, Aquaphor Children's Itch Relief, Aquaphor Itch Relief, Balneol for Her, Caldecort , Cetacort, Colocort , Cortaid, Cortaid Advanced, Cortaid Intensive Therapy, Cortaid Sensitive Skin, CortAlo, Cortef, Cortenema, Corticaine, Corticool, Cortifoam, Cortizone-10, Cortizone-10 Cooling Relief, Cortizone-10 External Itch Relief, Cortizone-10 Intensive Healing, Cortizone-10 Plus, Cortizone-10 Quick Shot, Cortizone-5 , Dermarest Dricort, Dermarest Eczema, Dermarest Itch Relief, Encort, First - Hydrocortisone, Gly-Cort , GRx HiCort, Hemmorex-HC, Hemorrhoidal-HC, Hemril , Hycort, Hydro Skin, Hydrocortisone in Absorbase, Hydrocortone, Hydroskin , Hydroxym, Hytone, Instacort, Lacticare HC, Locoid, Locoid Lipocream, MiCort-HC , Monistat Complete Care Instant Itch Relief Cream, Neosporin Eczema, NuCort , Nutracort, NuZon, Pandel, Penecort, Preparation H Hydrocortisone, Proctocort, Proctocream-HC, Procto-Kit, Procto-Med HC , Procto-Pak, Proctosert HC , Proctosol-HC, Proctozone-HC, Rectacort HC, Rectasol-HC, Rederm, Sarnol-HC, Scalacort, Scalpicin Anti-Itch, Solu-Cortef, Texacort, Tucks HC, Vagisil Anti-Itch, Walgreens Intensive Healing, Westcort
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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