Morphological approach of the sternal foramen: an anatomic study and a short review of the literature

Folia Morphol (Warsz). 2017;76(3):484-490. doi: 10.5603/FM.a2017.0006. Epub 2017 Feb 2.


Background: The sternal foramen (SF) constitutes a specific anatomic defect in sternum, indicating an impaired fusion of ossificated segments, which occurs either in an anatomical part of the sternum or in sternal joints. The aim of this article is to provide baseline statistical data about the variations of the SF, to present a short review of the relevant literature and to compare results with other studies and populations.

Materials and methods: We review relevant literature, and we present data obtai-ned from skeletal samples of known population and sex. A total of 35 well-preserved dried sterna from the prefecture of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Greece, were selected: 20 men and 15 women with a mean age of 55 ± 6 years old. Measurements were made with a sliding calliper and photographic documentation.

Results: The incidence of the SF in the 35 dried specimens was 14.2%, 4 men (20% of male sample) and 1 woman (6.6% of female sample) and 80% of sternal foramina were observed in male individuals. The SF was found in the sternum body (2 cases, 40% of foramina), in xiphoid process (2 cases, 40% of foramina) and in sternoxiphoidal junction (1 case, 20% of foramina). All of the sterna presented 1 single visible SF. Two anatomically unique cases were identified throughout these 5 sterna, both belonging in male subjects.

Conclusions: The SF constitutes a relatively common variation with great radiological, clinical, and forensic significance. Presence of a SF with irregular bony margins complicates considerably radiological differential diagnosis. Awareness of this important anatomic variation is fundamental for clinicians and autopsy pathologists, in order to avoid severe fatal complications and elucidate the exact cause of death, respectively.

Keywords: anatomic study; foramen; review; sternal; variations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sternum / abnormalities*