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  • Fayette Williams, DDS, MD

What is Ameloblastoma?

Updated: Aug 30, 2019

This is a rare tumor that occurs exclusively in the jaws. It has been estimated that there are around 500 cases each year in the United States. This tumor is four times as common in the lower jaw, but upper jaw cases do occur.



This tumor originates from the cells that make your teeth, which is why this is classified as an "odontogenic" tumor, and why it doesn't develop in other parts of the body. While it can develop at any age, it's more common for patients in their twenties to forties. Males and females are equally affected.


There are no known risk factors and researchers are unsure why this tumor occurs. There is no association with tobacco or alcohol as is seen with oral squamous cell carcinoma. Some experts believe a genetic predisposition is likely.


Some patients will read their pathology report and learn that several subtypes of ameloblastoma exist: follicular, plexiform, acanthomatous, basal cell, desmoplastic, and unicystic. These subtypes are based on the pattern of cells seen under the microscope. For the most part, these subtypes do not change the treatment and do not make the tumor any more or less aggressive. A possible exception to this is the unicystic ameloblastoma which tends to occur in younger patients. Some doctors believe this variant can be treated less aggressively, although there is not universal agreement among experts.


This tumor originates from the cells that make your teeth, which is why this is classified as an "odontogenic" tumor, and why it doesn't develop in other parts of the body.

Is this "cancer?"


The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies ameloblastoma as a benign but locally aggressive tumor with a high tendency to recur. Although this is benign (non-cancerous), it is still very destructive as it grows and destroys the jaw bone.


It is important to note there are two very rare variations: ameloblastic carcinoma and metastasizing (malignant) ameloblastoma. Ameloblastic carcinoma IS cancerous which means it can be life-threatening. Treatment often includes both surgery and radiation and can have lower success rates than with benign tumors. Metastasizing (malignant) ameloblastoma is a confusing name because it can spread to other parts of the body (usually the lung) although under a microscope it still has a benign appearance.


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