Management of oral potentially malignant disorders

Oral Dis. 2021 Nov;27(8):2008-2025. doi: 10.1111/odi.13980. Epub 2021 Oct 9.


Patients with oral potentially malignant disorders (OPMDs), including oral leukoplakia and erythroplakia, proliferative verrucous leukoplakia, oral submucous fibrosis, and oral lichen planus/lichenoid lesions, can be challenging to manage. A small proportion will undergo cancer development and determining a patient's cancer risk is key to making management decisions. Yet, our understanding of the natural history of OPMDs has not been fully elucidated, and a precision approach based on the integration of numerous predictive markers has not been validated by prospective studies. Evidence-based health promotion by clinicians and healthcare systems is not embraced universally. Medical and surgical interventions evaluated by rigorous research measuring important endpoints, such as cancer development, mortality, or survival, are difficult and expensive to run. Most of these studies employ non-ideal surrogate endpoints and have deep methodologic flaws. Diagnostic criteria for enrolling research subjects are not uniform, and patients with the highest risk for cancer development comprise small proportions of those enrolled. Few studies explore quality of life and patient preferences. It is time to rethink how we approach the management of these patients, across each OPMD, and considering the healthcare infrastructure and cost-effectiveness. Global networks with well-characterized patient populations with OPMDs and well-designed interventional trials using validated outcome measures are needed.

Keywords: cancer and pre-cancer; mouth; mucosal diseases; oncology; therapies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Leukoplakia, Oral / therapy
  • Lichen Planus, Oral* / therapy
  • Mouth Mucosa
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Precancerous Conditions* / therapy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life