Architectural distortion in mammography

Dr Henry Knipe and Radswiki et al.

Architectural distortion is a mammographic descriptive term in breast imaging. It may be visualised as tethering or indentation of breast tissue. 


Architectural distortion per se is not a mass. It is often due to a desmoplastic reaction in which there is focal disruption of the normal breast tissue pattern.

There are several features that can be considered as part of architectural distortion 3:

  • contour abnormality
  • trabecular thickening
  • trabecular disorganisation

Many entities can cause architectural distortion 1,4. In practice the most common are surgery and potentially malignant breast lesions. Very subtle lesions are sometimes a feature in lobular breast carcinoma, which do not necessarily present with the features usually associated with infiltrating ductal carcinoma (IDC). 

Radiographic features

In most patients there is global symmetry between the two breasts as far as the parenchyma is distributed and imaged. By comparing MLO and CC views carefully, subtle areas of asymmetry can be found sometimes even very subtle areas not seen by quick look by by neophyte observers. Parenchymal asymmetry is a routinely assessed feature in mammography and usually means any undue disruption in the usual parenchymal pattern.

It is considered third most-common appearance of breast cancer 1 and at times can be a subtle finding on mammography. 

History and etymology

In times before screening mammography became universally accepted, the diagnosis and surgery for breast pathology was a haphazard process at best. The diagnosis of carcinoma was invariably made once a tumour was clinically palpable to the clinician. Surgery was generally performed without preoperative  imaging. The result was that women with benign breast changes would potentially end up with multiple surgeries to both breasts over the course of their lifetime. After mammography was implemented, it was often impossible to distinguish a postsurgical scar from the architectural distortion caused by the scirrhous reaction of a breast cancer. This is the reason why percutaneous needle biopsies are preferred in the eyes of the breast imager and why the demise of the blind open surgical biopsy was a happy day in the eyes of the breast imager.

Related articles

Breast imaging and pathology

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