Non-neoplastic epithelial disorders of the vulva

Am Fam Physician. 2008 Feb 1;77(3):321-6.


Lichen sclerosus, lichen planus, and lichen simplex chronicus are three of the most common non-neoplastic epithelial disorders of the vulva. Lichen sclerosus is characterized by intense vulvar itching and can affect men and women of all ages, but it manifests most commonly in postmenopausal women. Patients with lichen sclerosus have an increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, and they should be monitored for malignancy. Lichen planus is an inflammatory autoimmune disorder that can affect the vulva and the vagina; it peaks in incidence between ages 30 and 60. There are three clinical variants of lichen planus affecting the vulva: erosive, papulosquamous, and hypertrophic. Lichen simplex chronicus is caused by persistent itching and scratching of the vulvar skin, which results in a thickened, leathery appearance. It is thought to be an atopic disorder in many cases and may arise in normal skin as a result of psychological stress or environmental factors. Definitive diagnosis of non-neoplastic disorders depends on the histology of biopsied tissue. All three disorders are treated with topical corticosteroid ointments of varying potency. Lichen sclerosus and lichen planus are not routinely treated with surgery, which is necessary only in patients who have a malignancy or advanced scarring that causes dyspareunia or clitoral phimosis. Educational counseling teaches patients that even though these chronic disorders cannot be cured, they can be effectively managed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dermatologic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lichen Planus / diagnosis
  • Lichen Planus / therapy
  • Neurodermatitis / diagnosis
  • Neurodermatitis / therapy
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Skin Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy
  • Skin Diseases / therapy*
  • Vulvar Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Vulvar Diseases / drug therapy
  • Vulvar Diseases / therapy*
  • Vulvar Lichen Sclerosus / diagnosis
  • Vulvar Lichen Sclerosus / therapy


  • Dermatologic Agents