What are Fordyce spots?
Fordyce spots, also known as Fordyce granules or Fordyce glands, are a common, harmless condition. They are slightly enlarged oil glands that are commonly found on your lips, inside your cheeks, and occasionally on your genitalia. Fordyce spots have no effect on your general health, and they may not even be visible on many people.
On most people, Fordyce spots are less than three millimeters wide, and appear white or pale yellow. These spots generally feel no different than other parts of the lips of cheeks, though they may occasionally get irritated because of their raised position. Fordyce spots are not a sign of conditions like herpes, cold sores, or acne.
While Fordyce spots are completely safe themselves, they may be a potential sign of other, more serious conditions. Recognizing the signs and causes of Fordyce spots can help you decide whether to talk to your doctor about these other conditions.
Types of Fordyce spots
Fordyce spots are considered a completely normal type of skin. Not only are they harmless, they are also considered a variant skin type, not a medical condition. While more studies need to be done to identify the exact cause of Fordyce spots, there are conditions which may be more common in people with these spots. Such include colorectal cancer and rheumatic disorders, as mentioned above.
One final condition that may be associated with Fordyce spots is high cholesterol. Early trials suggest that having more Fordyce spots on the lips and mouth may mean that you are more likely to have high cholesterol. This may be correlated to the amount of lipids in your blood.
Symptoms and signs of Fordyce spots
Fordyce spots may appear in as much as 80% of the population, but they are only noticeable in some people. Men appear to have noticeable Fordyce spots about twice as often as women. There are many potential causes for this.
Other symptoms often correlated with Fordyce spots include:
People with oily or greasy skin types are more likely to have noticeable Fordyce spots than people with dry skin types. This may be connected to the fact that Fordyce glands are oil glands; people who naturally produce more skin oils may be more prone to enlarged oil glands in general.
While Fordyce spots can appear at any age, they are more likely to first appear during puberty or middle adulthood. This may be linked to the oil production patterns of these ages. It may also explain why infants rarely ever have visible Fordyce spots.
While there is no known link between the two conditions, people with rheumatic disorders appear to be more likely to develop Fordyce spots as they age.
Certain types of colorectal cancer
As with rheumatic disorders, people with Fordyce spots appear to be more likely to experience certain types of colorectal cancer. This trend appears to run in families, so having a relative with Fordyce spots who developed colorectal cancer may mean that you are more likely to develop this cancer if you also have Fordyce spots.
When to see a doctor for Fordyce spots
If you have white bumps on your lips or inside your cheeks, you should discuss them with your physician. They will be able to examine you to determine whether you have harmless Fordyce spots or something more serious, such as thrush or oral herpes.
Your doctor will do an oral examination and may take a swab of your cheeks or gums. This swab will be tested for the presence of bacteria or viruses. If the test comes back negative, then you most likely have Fordyce spots.
Treatments for Fordyce spots
There is no need to treat Fordyce spots for your health. They are common and harmless, so as long as they are not bothering you, they can be left alone.
If you dislike your Fordyce spots or find them aesthetically unappealing, there are a few potential cosmetic treatments you may consider. Some dermatologists offer laser treatments to both remove the spots and prevent them from coming back, however, these treatments may leave scars. Others recommend oral isotretinoin, which may only be taken for short periods of time.
Finally, some trials have found that chemical cauterization may be successful without leaving significant scarring or discoloration. To choose the cosmetic removal treatment that will work best for you, reach out to your physician.
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Annals of Dermatology: "Clinicopathologic Manifestations of Patients with Fordyce's Spots."
Dental Research Journal: "Can presence of oral Fordyce's granules serve as a marker for hyperlipidemia?"
Gut: "Fordyce granules and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer syndrome."
Journal de biologie buccale: "Fordyce's spots: disease, heterotopia or adenoma? Histological and ultrastructural study."
Scully, C. Oral and Maxillofacial Medicine (Third Edition), Churchill Livingstone, 2013.
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