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Keywords:

  • genital;
  • lichen planus;
  • pimecrolimus;
  • tacrolimus;
  • vulva

Summary

Background  A potent topical steroid is the conventional therapy for genital lichen planus (GLP). Side-effects or steroid resistance can be encountered and second-line therapy such as topical tacrolimus may be required. In our experience tacrolimus may be poorly tolerated in genital skin because of a burning sensation. In addition, there is impairment of Langerhans cell function, raising concerns about its long-term use. These adverse effects may not be as marked with pimecrolimus. To our knowledge, pimecrolimus has not been used in the treatment of GLP.

Objectives  To assess the efficacy and tolerability of topical pimecrolimus in the treatment of GLP.

Methods  Eleven women with GLP were recruited: 10 had erosive vulval disease and one had classical lichen planus of perianal skin. Ten patients had poor disease control, and despite using topical steroids appropriately, two of these also had steroid-related side-effects in adjacent unaffected skin. The eleventh patient had adequate disease control but marked steroid atrophy. Topical pimecrolimus 1% cream (Elidel cream®; Novartis, Camberley, U.K.) was applied twice daily to affected areas. Patients were followed up between 4 and 6 weeks later. They remain under regular review and at the time of writing mean follow-up is 5·2 months (range 2–10).

Results  Nine patients (82%) tolerated pimecrolimus, including three patients previously intolerant of tacrolimus. These nine patients showed a clinical response at 4–6 weeks: two showed a complete response with no residual disease activity visible and seven had a partial response. With longer follow-up, six (55%) of the women had a complete response and three (27%) were considered to have a partial response. Eight patients noted symptomatic improvement and one felt that her symptoms were the same as with steroid use. Two patients (18%) with erosive lichen planus were unable to tolerate pimecrolimus due to local irritation.

Conclusions  We have found that topical pimecrolimus 1% cream is an effective treatment for GLP. Local irritation can limit its use, but it may be better tolerated than topical tacrolimus: three of our complete responders had previously been intolerant of tacrolimus. Topical pimecrolimus may be a valuable second-line treatment for patients with steroid-related side-effects or steroid-resistant GLP.