Conference Coverage

Are laser treatments better than steroids for lichen sclerosus?



Laser treatment for lichen sclerosus was noninferior to steroid therapy after 6 months and may lead to better outcomes on various patient- and physician-reported measures, according to trial results presented at the virtual annual scientific meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons.

Patients with lichen sclerosus often present with itching, burning, and dysuria. Untreated, the vulvar dystrophy can cause architectural changes and is associated with an increased risk of vulvar malignancies.

Topical steroids are the standard treatment. To assess whether fractional CO2 laser treatment is noninferior to clobetasol propionate at 6 months, Linda Burkett, MD, and colleagues conducted a randomized controlled trial. Dr. Burkett is affiliated with MedStar Washington Hospital Center and Georgetown University in Washington and UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh.

The researchers enrolled 52 postmenopausal women with biopsy-proven lichen sclerosus. Patients had to have significant symptoms reflected by a score of at least 21 on the Skindex-29.

Twenty-seven women were assigned to receive laser therapy, and 25 were assigned to receive steroids. One patient in the steroid arm was lost to follow-up. About half of the patients in each group had prior clobetasol propionate exposure.

Patients in the steroid arm were started on 0.05% clobetasol propionate used nightly for 4 weeks, then three times per week for 8 weeks, and then as needed. They had a phone call follow-up at 2 weeks to confirm compliance and an optional in-person appointment at 3 months.

Patients in the laser arm received three laser treatments 4-6 weeks apart.

At 6 months, all patients returned for repeat assessments. The primary outcome was the Skindex-29, a dermatologic questionnaire. Secondary outcomes included a patient visual analog scale of bothersome vulvar symptoms, a provider visual assessment score, the Vaginal Health Index, the Vulvovaginal Symptom Questionnaire, the Patient Global Impression of Improvement, and the Patient Global Impression of Satisfaction.

Average Skindex-29 scores from baseline to 6 months improved more in the laser treatment group, compared with the steroid group, for all health-related quality of life categories: overall, emotional, functional, and symptoms. “At 6 months across all scores, patients reported very little bother,” Dr. Burkett said.

Differences between the groups were statistically significant for all but the functional subscore.

Average scores on subjective secondary outcomes improved more in the laser treatment group, compared with the steroid treatment group. The between-group differences were statistically significant for irritation and the Vulvovaginal Symptom Questionnaire.

For provider-based scores, patients in the laser group had greater improvement on all measures except perianal involvement, relative to patients in the steroid group. In addition, fusion of the labia minora and phimosis worsened in the steroid group.

Differences between the groups were statistically significant for phimosis, erosion, and the Vaginal Health Index.

Significantly more patients in the laser group than in the steroid group were satisfied or very satisfied with the results at 6 months (81% vs. 41%). Patients in the laser group were more likely to report that they were better or much better (89% vs. 62%), though the difference was not statistically significant.

There were no major adverse events.

The trial – the first randomized controlled study of energy-based treatment for lichen sclerosus – was conducted at a single center, and treatment was not blinded, Dr. Burkett noted.

“The treatment effect was pretty significant in favor of laser therapy,” said Cecile A. Ferrando, MD, MPH, of the Center for Urogynecology and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery at Cleveland Clinic, commenting on the research.

“Compliance issues with clobetasol aside,” the findings raise the question of whether laser therapy should be offered as first-line treatment, Dr. Ferrando said.

The study might have been more robust had it excluded patients with previous clobetasol propionate exposure, Dr. Ferrando added.

Dr. Burkett noted that future studies may incorporate multiple centers, histology measures, and sham laser treatments and include only women who have not previously received clobetasol propionate.

The researchers had no relevant financial disclosures. Dr. Ferrando disclosed authorship royalties from UpToDate.

SOURCE: Burkett L et al. SGS 2020, Abstract 09.

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