As part of our Complex Surgical Mission, we treat patients who have very severe cases of facial disfigurement. Some of these include Noma, large facial tumours known as Ameloblastomas, Trismus (Lockjaw) and abnormal bone tissue growths such as Cherubism. This article discusses ameloblastoma, and the role of Project Harar in treating patients with this condition.

What is Ameloblastoma?

Ameloblastomas are rare, non-cancerous, slow-growing tumours which occur in and around the jaw bone. They consist of excess tissue growth. 80% of ameloblastomas occur around the lower jaw. If left undiagnosed and untreated, the tumour may become more aggressive, affecting surrounding areas of the jaw like the sinuses or eye-sockets, as well as nerves and blood vessels. They can become life-threatening if untreated.

Who is affected by Ameloblastoma?

Both men and women can be affected by ameloblastomas, of any age or ethnicity group. However, it is more frequently seen in those aged between 30 to 40 years, and it is uncommon in children under the age of 10. Ameloblastomas are very rare, and only 1% of all jaw tumours are Ameloblastomas.

What causes Ameloblastoma?

The cause of Ameloblastomas are unknown, and as this type of tumour is rare, there has been limited research into its causes. However, recent research has associated two genes called ‘BRAF’ and ‘SMO’ in over 80% of Ameloblastoma cases; these genes are involved in controlling cell growth, and changes to them are believed to have led to the development of the tumour.

How is Ameloblastoma diagnosed?

Ameloblastomas are detected through x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans and a biopsy of the bone. These can be picked up by regular visits to UK health services like the dentist.  

In Ethiopia, many people do not get treatment due to distance and cost of health facilities and many do not want to leave work or haven’t got anyone to look after their children. Some simply do not know they can get treatment. This results in a lack of early diagnosis, so many of our patients come to us when their ameloblastoma has progressed to enormous proportions like Elili (pictured above).

Our role in treating patients with Ameloblastoma

It is essential to diagnose ameloblastomas early to prevent excessive growth, bone destruction and progression to a more life-threatening tumour. When this does not happen, the tumour will continue growing rapidly, resulting in cleft, facial disfigurement, ethiopia, charity, fundraising, eastafria, africa, volunteers, cleft palate, Project Hararboth physical and emotional consequences.

We treated Gemechu in 2018 who had a giant ameloblastoma which had initially just started off as a small growth on his cheek three years prior, but it continued to enlarge. Gemechu faced severe discrimination because of this, telling us “children would run away from me when they saw me. I can’t play with my peers because of my appearance”. He resorted to begging on the streets of Addis because he couldn’t find work. One of our outreach workers noticed him, and brought him in to be treated.

The operation was complicated, but successful – Gemechu was transformed! In addition, he received social support from our rehabilitation centre, helping him to increase his confidence and preparing him for his new life.

“I am really happy now. Thanks to Project Harar I have escaped from complication, hard times and disappointment”.

Please consider donating to help more children like Gemechu and Elili.