Oral lichen planus (OLP) is a common chronic inflammatory disease of unknown etiology and likely autoimmune nature that is currently considered an oral potentially malignant disorder, implying that patients suffering from this process are at risk of developing oral cancer in their lifetime. The molecular alterations that develop in OLP and that make the affected oral epithelium predisposed to malignancy are unknown, although, as in other autoimmune diseases (ulcerative colitis, primary biliary cirrhosis, etc.), they may be linked to oncogenesis-promoting effects mediated by the inflammatory infiltrate. So far there is no in-depth knowledge on how these hallmarks of cancer are established in the cells of the oral epithelium affected by OLP. In this scoping review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses the state of evidence based knowledge in this field is presented, to point out gaps of evidence and to indicate future lines of research. MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Library and Dare were searched for secondary-level studies published before October 2022. The results identified 20 systematic reviews and meta-analyses critically appraising the hallmarks tumor-promoting inflammation (n = 17, 85%), sustaining proliferative signaling (n = 2, 10%), and evading growth suppressors (n = 1, 5%). No evidence was found for the other hallmarks of cancer in OLP. In conclusion, OLP malignization hypothetically derives from the aggressions of the inflammatory infiltrate and a particular type of epithelial response based on increased epithelial proliferation, evasion of growth-suppressive signals and lack of apoptosis. Future evidence-based research is required to support this hypothesis.
Keywords: biomarkers; hallmarks of cancer; malignant transformation; meta-analysis; molecular; oral cancer; oral lichen planus; scoping review; systematic review.