Erythroplakia is the appearance of abnormal red lesions on the mucous membranes of your mouth. Typically, the lesions occur on the floor of the mouth or on the tongue, and they can’t be scraped off. The lesions are seen with leukoplakia lesions that have similar properties but appear in white instead of red. American Academy of Oral Medicine notes that both erythroplakia and leukoplakia are considered precancerous, or sometimes potentially cancerous, lesions.
Erythroplakia usually develops without pain or any other symptoms, which means it often goes unnoticed unless you look for it or if your dentists find it during a routine check-up. In case your dentist suspects erythroplakia, they will inspect the area where the lesions are with medical equipment. Once done, they may ask you for your medical history with lesions and rule out conditions like trauma. Early diagnosis can help with better treatment and management of the condition.
To determine whether erythroplakia is cancerous, your dentist may first take a sample or do a biopsy. The specimen is then tested by a pathologist under a microscope for signs of dysplasia - a characteristic of cells that signals the risk of developing cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, if the lesion bleeds easily, the likelihood of erythroplakia is very high. The condition is known to show up as precancerous cells at the time of diagnosis. Usually, there’s a 14 to 50% chance of the malignant cells turning into cancer in the future. While a majority of leukoplakia lesions don’t lead to the formation of cancer, the rate at which erythroplakia could develop into cancer is higher if it shows dysplasia.
Treatment for erythroplakia depends on the biopsy results, the size of the lesions, and their location. After careful observation, the dentist may prescribe:
Erythroplakia is an uncommon condition that occurs as painless red patches on the mucous membrane of the mouth. Your dentist can spot them so it’s always advisable to visit them when you spot them.