To reach early diagnoses and improve outcomes in cases of mucosal and esophageal lichen planus (ELP), patient education along with a multidisciplinary approach centered on collaboration among dermatologists, gastroenterologists, gynecologists, and dental practitioners should be a priority. Tofacitinib therapy should be considered in the treatment of patients presenting with cutaneous lichen planus (CLP), mucosal lichen planus, and ELP.
Lichen planus is a papulosquamous disease of the skin and mucous membranes that is most common on the skin and oral mucosa. Typical lesions of CLP present as purple, pruritic, polygonal papules and plaques on the flexural surfaces of the wrists and ankles as well as areas of friction or trauma due to scratching such as the shins and lower back. Various subtypes of lichen planus can present simultaneously, resulting in extensive involvement that worsens through koebnerization and affects the oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, sclera, genitalia, scalp, and nails.1,2
Esophageal lichen planus can develop with or without the presence of CLP, oral lichen planus (OLP), or genital lichen planus.3 It typically affects women older than 50 years and is linked to OLP and vulvar lichen planus, with 1 study reporting that 87% (63/72) of ELP patients were women with a median age of 61.9 years at the time of diagnosis (range, 22–85 years). Almost all ELP patients in the study had lichen planus symptoms in other locations; 89% (64/72) had OLP, and 42% (30/72) had vulvar lichen planus.4 Consequently, a diagnosis of ELP should be followed by a thorough full-body examination to check for lichen planus at other sites. Studies that examined lichen planus patients for ELP found that 25% to 50% of patients diagnosed with orocutaneous lichen planus also had ELP, with ELP frequently presenting without symptoms.3,5 These findings indicate that ELP likely is underdiagnosed and often misdiagnosed, resulting in an underestimation of its prevalence.
Our case highlights a frequently misdiagnosed condition and underscores the importance of close examination of patients presenting with CLP and OLP for signs and symptoms of ELP. Furthermore, we discuss the importance of patient education and collaboration among different specialties in attaining an early diagnosis to improve patient outcomes. Finally, we review the clinical presentation, diagnosis, and treatment of CLP, OLP, and ELP, as well as the utility of tofacitinib for ELP.
An emaciated 89-year-old woman with an 11-year history of CLP, OLP, and genital lichen planus that had been successfully treated with topicals presented with an OLP recurrence alongside difficulties eating and swallowing. Her symptoms lasted 1 year and would recur when treatment was paused. Her medical history included rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, and hypertension, and she was taking levothyroxine, olmesartan, and vitamin D supplements. Dentures and olmesartan previously were ruled out as potential triggers following a 2-month elimination. None of her remaining natural teeth had fillings. She also reported that neither she nor her partner had ever smoked or chewed tobacco.
The patient’s lichen planus involvement first manifested as red, itchy, polygonal, lichenoid papules on the superior and inferior mid back 11 years prior to the current presentation (Figure 1). Further examination noted erosions on the genitalia, and a subsequent biopsy of the vulva confirmed a diagnosis of lichen planus (Figure 2). Treatment with halobetasol propionate ointment and tacrolimus ointment 0.1% twice daily (BID) resulted in remission of the CLP and vulvar lichen planus. She presented a year later with oral involvement revealing Wickham striae on the buccal mucosa and erosions on the upper palate that resolved after 2 months of treatment with cyclosporine oral solution mixed with a 5-times-daily nystatin swish-and-spit (Figure 3). The CLP did not recur but OLP was punctuated by remissions and recurrences on a yearly basis, often related to the cessation of mouthwash and topical creams. The OLP and vulvar lichen planus were successfully treated with as-needed use of a cyclosporine mouthwash swish-and-spit 3 times daily as well as halobetasol ointment 0.05% 3 times daily, respectively. Six years later, the patient was hospitalized for unrelated causes and was lost to follow-up for 2 years.
The patient experienced worsening dysphagia and odynophagia over a period of 2 years (mild dysphagia was first recorded 7 years prior to the initial presentation) and reported an unintentional weight loss of 20 pounds. An endoscopy was performed 3 years after the initial report of dysphagia and noted esophageal erosions (Figure 4A) and a stricture (Figure 4B), but all abnormal involvement was attributed to active gastroesophageal reflux disease. She underwent 8 esophageal dilations to treat the stricture but noted that the duration of symptomatic relief decreased with every subsequent dilation. An esophageal stent was placed 4 years after the initial concern of dysphagia, but it was not well tolerated and had to be removed soon thereafter. A year later, the patient underwent an esophageal bypass with a substernal gastric conduit that provided relief for 2 months but failed to permanently resolve the condition. In fact, her condition worsened over the next 1.5 years when she presented with extreme emaciation attributed to a low appetite and pain while eating. A review of the slides from a prior hospital esophageal biopsy revealed lichen planus (Figure 5). She was prescribed tofacitinib 5 mg BID as a dual-purpose treatment for the rheumatoid arthritis and OLP/ELP. At 1-month follow-up she noted that she had only taken one 5-mg pill daily without notable improvement, and after the visit she started the initial recommendation of 5 mg BID. Over the next several months, her condition continued to consistently improve; the odynophagia resolved, and she regained the majority of her lost weight. Tofacitinib was well tolerated across the course of treatment, and no adverse side effects were noted. Furthermore, the patient regained a full range of motion in the previously immobile arthritic right shoulder. She has experienced no recurrence of the genital lichen planus, OLP, or CLP since starting tofacitinib. To date, the patient is still taking only tofacitinib 5 mg BID with no recurrence of the cutaneous, mucosal, or esophageal lichen planus and has experienced no adverse events from the medication.