Histology of lichen sclerosus varies according to site and proximity to carcinoma

J Scurry, J Whitehead, M Healey
American Journal of Dermatopathology 2001, 23 (5): 413-8
To investigate why vulvar but not extragenital lichen sclerosus is associated with squamous cell carcinoma, we performed a histologic study of extragenital lichen sclerosus, vulvar lichen sclerosus without carcinoma, and vulvar lichen sclerosus with carcinoma adjacent to and distant from the carcinoma. We compared epidermal thickness, rete ridge length, mitotic activity, atypia, dermal collagen change, dermal inflammation, and presence of other dermatoses in 30 women in each group. Extragenital lichen sclerosus showed thinner epidermis (mean thickness of 0.13 mm versus 0.41 mm; P < 0.0005), shorter rete ridges (P = 0.0001), more dermal edema (P = 0.16), and absence of associated dermatoses of spongiotic dermatitis and lichen planus (P < 0.005) compared with vulvar lichen sclerosus. The epidermal thickening seen in vulvar lichen sclerosus was indistinguishable from lichen simplex chronicus. Vulvar lichen sclerosus without carcinoma was generally similar to that distant from carcinoma. Vulvar lichen sclerosus adjacent to carcinoma showed increased epidermal thickness (0.61 mm versus 0.26 mm; P < 0.005), more dermal fibrosis (P < 0.0005), more inflammation (P < 0.0005), and more simplex (differentiated) vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (18 cases versus 1 case; P < 0.0005) compared with that distant from carcinoma. We concluded that (1) the classic histologic features of lichen sclerosus are seen in both vulvar and extragenital sites; (2) vulvar lichen sclerosus without associated carcinoma has a mean epidermal thickness more than three times that of extragenital lichen sclerosus; (3) the epidermal thickening is histologically indistinguishable from lichen simplex chronicus; (4) there is a tendency for vulvar lichen sclerosus to have a more sclerotic and inflamed dermis; (5) lichen sclerosus 10 mm from cancer is more similar to vulvar lichen sclerosus without carcinoma than lichen sclerosus 1 mm from carcinoma; and (6) lichen sclerosus adjacent to carcinoma tends to show exaggerated epidermis thickness, basal atypia, and loss of the edematous-hyaline layer.

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