Oral erythroplakia--a review

Oral Oncol. 2005 Jul;41(6):551-61. doi: 10.1016/j.oraloncology.2004.12.003. Epub 2005 Apr 9.


Oral erythroplakia (OE) is considered a rare potentially malignant lesion of the oral mucosa. Reports entirely devoted to OE are very few, and only two reviews none of which are of recent date have been published. Only the true, velvety, red homogeneous OE has been clearly defined while the terminology for mixed red and white lesions is complex, ill-defined and confusing. A recent case control study of OE from India reported a prevalence of 0.2%. A range of prevalences between 0.02% and 0.83% from different geographical areas has been documented. OE is predominantly seen in the middle aged and elderly. One study from India showed a female:male ratio of 1:1.04. The soft palate, the floor of the mouth and the buccal mucosa is commonly affected. A specific type of OE occurs in chutta smokers in India. Lesions of OE are typically less than 1.5 cm in diameter. The etiology of OE reveals a strong association with tobacco consumption and the use of alcohol. Histopathologically, it has been documented that in OE of the homogenous type, 51% showed invasive carcinoma, 40% carcinoma in situ and 9% mild or moderate dysplasia. Recently, genomic aberrations with DNA aneuploidy has been demonstrated. p53 mutations with different degrees of dysplasia may play a role in some cases of OE. Transformation rates are considered to be the highest among all precancerous oral lesions and conditions. Surgical excision is the treatment of choice. Data on laser excision are not available. Recurrence rates seem to be high, reliable data are, however, missing. More studies on OE are strongly needed to evaluate a number of so far unanswered questions. The natural history of OE is unknown. Do OEs develop de novo or are they developing from oral leukoplakia through several intermediate stages of white/red lesions? The possible role of fungal infection (Candida micro-organisms) is not clear as is the possible role of HPV co-infection in the development of OE. More data on incidence and prevalence, biological behaviour and adequate treatment are urgently needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Erythroplasia / diagnosis*
  • Erythroplasia / epidemiology
  • Erythroplasia / etiology
  • Erythroplasia / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Mouth Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Mouth Neoplasms / etiology
  • Mouth Neoplasms / therapy
  • Terminology as Topic