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Did a Medical Scan of an 80-Year-Old Woman Reveal a Calcified Fetus?

Fact Checks Viral Content

Did a Medical Scan of an 80-Year-Old Woman Reveal a Calcified Fetus?

Kim LaCapria

Claim

Images show a calcified fetus found in the cervix of an 80-year-old woman after three decades.

Rating

Mixed

Reporting

On December 11, 2018, a Facebook user shared the following image and caption purportedly showing a genuine calcified fetus:

80 year old lady [emoji], went to have a cat-scan, and they found a fetus that’s been in her cervix for 30 years

The referenced phenomenon (a calcified fetus or lithopedion) is real, but many readers noted that the images did not depict a cervix, the narrow two to three centimeters-long opening to the uterus.

Another questionable aspect of the quoted portion were the ages provided. The original Facebook poster claimed that the images depicted the pelvic area of an 80-year-old woman and that the calcified fetus had been there for 30 years. Although it’s not impossible for a woman to become pregnant at the age of 50, it is highly unusual.

The confluence of two highly atypical phenomena (advanced maternal age and fetal calcification) would be exponentially rare.

We were unable to locate firm statistics on the exceptionally unusual latter condition, but a linked list described several documented instances:

According to one report there are only 300 known cases of lithopedia in the world, recorded in over 400 years of medical literature. While the chance of abdominal pregnancy is one in 11,000 pregnancies, only between 1.5 and 1.8% of these abdominal pregnancies may develop into lithopedia.


Two days prior on Reddit, u/Derpazor1 shared the same quadrant of photographs to r/interestingasfuck.

A different description appeared in that post: “CT scans of a 30-year old calcified fetus inside the uterus of a 73-year old woman.”

In a comment, the original poster added that the purported subject was from Algeria, but they did not share any additional information about the source of the images.

The same image was shared on December 10, 2018 to r/WTF, but it appeared to be a repost and included no further information. Shares to Instagram on December 9, 2018 received considerable traction, but it appeared to reiterate the original Reddit post (sometimes with additional images attached). Reverse image searches did not shed much additional light on the source of the images, save for their age.

TinEye showed that the photograph was shared as early as October 2016 (the month and year visible on the first radiograph), and it appeared on Twitter in January 2017:


Otherwise, attempts to specifically verify the image circulating on Facebook and Reddit in December 2018 largely led to a dead end.

It should be noted that the phenomenon is well documented in medical literature, first observed as early as 1582. Cases were reported in March and April 2014, and again in June/July 2016. All three cases appear to have occurred outside the United States:

Lithopedion is a rare phenomenon resulting from an extra-uterine pregnancy that advances to fetal demise and calcification and there are less than 300 cases reported in 400 years of medical literature. This rare condition was first described by a surgeon of the Arabic era of medicine in the 10th century. This case report is a 26-year-old, multiparous woman who had presented a lower abdominal pain for long time and she had never attended in pre-natal clinic. She came to our hos-pital with pain and tumoral mass in infra-umbilical area and then we referred to radiology center, after that ultrasound examination of radiology center demonstrated an extra-uterine abdominal 30-week pregnancy measuring the femoral length, this for first diagnosis of radiology center. After laparotomy was performed we met an oval shaped mass that attached the omentum in peritoneal cavity and this mass was a fetus retention of 5 years without calcified ovular membranes but the fetus was calcified so this type is called lithopedion that describes according to the Kuechen-meister classification in 1881. She made good post-operative recovery after extraction [sic] the stone baby.

Although there is no question the medical condition known as a lithopedion or calcified fetus is real and documented, albeit rare, the legitimacy and source of the viral images above remains undetermined. Further, some of its descriptors were medically invalid. Several backstories and ages of the woman and purported fetus were provided in myriad social media appearances, but none seemed to be substantiated with identifying information or a verifiable point of origin.

It appears that this particular image was first published online in October 2016, but the possibility remains that these specific images (tagged as “#medicalart” in early versions) existed for illustrative rather than diagnostic purposes.

Because the phenomenon is real but the image is uncertain, we rate this claim as “Mixed.”

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