Lichen sclerosus is a rare inflammatory skin disease that creates a thin, patchy appearance on the skin, especially in skin around the genital area. Symptoms of lichen sclerosus can feel uncomfortable as well as embarrassing.
The University of Kansas Health System provides high-quality care for those with lichen sclerosus. Our care team, which includes coordinating care among primary care, dermatology and women's health (ob/gyn) physicians, includes a nationally recognized lichen sclerosus expert.
What is lichen sclerosus?
Lichen sclerosus is a chronic, uncommon skin disorder that tends to affect women more than men, although men can get lichen sclerosus too. The symptoms of lichen sclerosus appear as pale patches of skin that can also be itchy. These patches occur most often around the genital and anal area, but can affect skin on the upper body, upper arms and breasts or chest. Lichen sclerosus isn’t contagious, but it is progressive and can worsen without treatment.
Lichen sclerosus symptoms and risks
Not everyone with lichen sclerosus shows noticeable signs of the disease. Typical symptoms of lichen sclerosus can include:
- Broken skin
- Chronic itch that does not respond well to treatment
- Difficulty urinating
- Narrowing of the vaginal opening in women with clitoral phimosis
- Phimosis (inability to retract) of the foreskin in men
- Skin thickening
- Skin thinning
- White areas of skin
Anyone can get lichen sclerosus, including children. However, postmenopausal women and men who aren’t circumcised carry a higher risk. Severe lichen sclerosus symptoms can lead to painful intercourse or the inability to engage in intercourse for both men and women.
Lichen sclerosus diagnosis and screening
To diagnose lichen sclerosus, your doctor will conduct a physical evaluation that includes a visual exam of any skin irregularities. To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor may refer you to a different specialist or send a sample of the affected tissue to the lab for further examination under a microscope.
Leading research and clinical trials
As part of one of the nation's premier academic medical centers, our care providers are committed to research and scientific discovery through the University of Kansas Medical Center. We can often include our patients in potentially lifesaving clinical trials and treatment options not available anywhere else.
Lichen sclerosus treatment
Mild cases of lichen sclerosus may not require any treatment at all. For more advanced cases or symptoms that cause significant discomfort, your doctor may suggest a topical corticosteroid ointment or cream. If symptoms remain resistant, your doctor may prescribe a special ointment that’s just for treating skin disorders.
Lichen sclerosus treatment can help relieve symptoms like itching as well as restore your skin’s appearance and limit scarring. It’s common for lichen sclerosus to return again after treatment, although sometimes it gets better on its own. In men with recurrent, resistant lichen sclerosus symptoms, circumcision may be recommended.