Vulvar lichen sclerosus and squamous cell carcinoma: a cohort, case control, and investigational study with historical perspective; implications for chronic inflammation and sclerosis in the development of neoplasia

Hum Pathol. 1998 Sep;29(9):932-48. doi: 10.1016/s0046-8177(98)90198-8.


The histological changes of lichen sclerosus (LS) are frequently found in association with vulvar squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). The importance of chronic inflammation and scarring in oncogenesis is well recognized. Thirty-two patients with symptomatic vulvar LS and 60 with vulvar SCC were studied. Paraffin sections of vulvar LS, and three controls groups (acute scars, normal vulva, and vulvar lichen simplex chronicus [LSC]) were investigated with a panel of seven tissue markers and for DNA content in areas without vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN). All published cases to date of vulvar LS associated with SCC were reviewed. Of the cohort of symptomatic vulvar LS patients (mean/median age, 60 years), 9% developed VIN lesions and 21% invasive SCC; symptomatic LS preceded the carcinoma by a mean of 4 years (range, 1 to 23 years). Second and third primary tumors developed in three of these patients. Of the series of 60 patients presenting with vulvar SCCa, the clinical setting and histological features of SCCs associated with LS were significantly distinctive compared with SCCas without LS: SCCs associated with LS occurred in an older age-group (74 v 65 years; P = .01), were located on the clitoris (41% v 5%; P = .003), were of conventional SCCa type (85% v 57%; P = .02), were associated with a prominent fibromyxoid stromal response (46% v 10%; P = .004), were not associated with VIN 3 (SCC in situ) (5% v 67%; P = .02) and diffusely expressed tumor suppressor gene product p53 (43% v 19%; P = .01) and cytokine TGF-beta (33% v 9%; P = .05). The epidermis of vulvar LS was similar to that of acute scars and differed significantly compared with normal vulva with respect to keratinocytic expression of markers to keratin AE 1, involucrin and filaggrin, epidermal thickness (0.13 mm [LS] v 0.05 mm [normal]; P < .03), and proliferative index by PCNA and Mib-1 labeling (53/60 [LS] v 15/19 [normal] per 200 basal cells [bc]; P < .003). Vulvar LS showed significantly higher expression of p53 than all three control groups (80 [LS] v 3 [normal]/44 [acute scar]/28 [LSC] per 200 bc; P < .008), and aneuploidy (33% v diploid controls) in the absence of VIN. Comparing LS with and without associated SCCa found significant increases in age of patients (74 v 66 years; P = .001), and DNA aneuploidy (52% v 11%; P = .0001) and no differences in epidermal thickness, sclerotic thickness, proliferative index, or p53 expression. However, those cases of LS with an aneuploid DNA content showed significantly elevated p53 expression (88 v 60/200 bc; P = .01) and epidermal thickness (0.16 v 0.11 mm; P = .005) compared with LS with a diploid DNA content. Review of published cases supports an association between LS and vulvar SCC. The phenomenon of chronic inflammation and scarring giving rise to carcinoma has been well documented. Vulvar lichen sclerosus (LS) is an inflammatory dermatosis characterized by clinicopathologic persistence and hypocellular fibrosis (sclerosis). A subset of vulvar SCCs is significantly associated with the presence of LS and diffusely express the p53 gene product. Keratinocytes affected by LS show a proliferative phenotype and can exhibit markers of neoplastic progression such as increased p53 expression and DNA aneuploidy. As a chronic scarring inflammatory dermatosis, vulvar LS could act as both "initiator and promoter" of carcinogenesis, explaining the frequent coexistence of these diseases. Because keratinocytes of LS significantly express tumor suppressor gene p53 protein, the p53 gene may be involved early in this proposed pathway of carcinogenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aneuploidy
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / complications
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Filaggrin Proteins
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Lichen Sclerosus et Atrophicus / complications
  • Lichen Sclerosus et Atrophicus / genetics
  • Lichen Sclerosus et Atrophicus / metabolism
  • Lichen Sclerosus et Atrophicus / pathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Vulvar Diseases / complications
  • Vulvar Diseases / genetics
  • Vulvar Diseases / metabolism
  • Vulvar Diseases / pathology*
  • Vulvar Neoplasms / complications
  • Vulvar Neoplasms / genetics
  • Vulvar Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Vulvar Neoplasms / pathology*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • FLG protein, human
  • Filaggrin Proteins