Cancellous bone

Cancellous bone

Illustration of a typical long bone showing the location of cancellous bone ("trabecular bone" on the image).

Light micrograph of a decalcified histologic specimen of cancellous bone showing its bony trabeculae (pink) and marrow tissue (blue).
Latin substantia spongiosa ossium
TA A02.0.00.004
FMA 24019

Anatomical terminology

Cancellous bone, synonymous with trabecular bone or spongy bone, is one of two types of bone tissue that form bones. The other bone tissue type is cortical bone, also called compact bone.


Cancellous bone has a higher surface area to mass ratio than cortical bone because it is less dense. This gives it softer, weaker, and more flexible characteristics. The greater surface area in comparison with cortical bone makes cancellous bone suitable for metabolic activity e.g. exchange of calcium ions. Cancellous bone is typically found at the ends of long bones, proximal to joints and within the interior of vertebrae. Cancellous bone is highly vascular and frequently contains red bone marrow where haematopoiesis, the production of blood cells, occurs. The primary anatomical and functional unit of cancellous bone is the trabecula. The trabeculae within cancellous bone are aligned towards the mechanical load distribution that a bone experiences within long bones such as the human femur. As far as short bones are concerned, trabecular alignment has been studied in the vertebral pedicle.[1] The macroscopic yield strength of cancellous bone has also been investigated, using high resolution computer models.[2]

Its Latin name is substantia spongiosa or substantia spongiosa ossium. The words cancellous and trabecular refer to the tiny lattice-shaped units that form the tissue. It was first illustrated accurately in the engravings of Crisóstomo Martinez.[3]

Clinical significance

In osteoporosis (specifically Type 1, aka post-menopausal), cancellous bone is more severely affected than cortical bone.


  1. Gdyczynski, C.M.; Manbachi, A.; et al. "On estimating the directionality distribution in pedicle trabecular bone from micro-CT images". Journal of Physiological Measurements. 35 (12): 2415–2428. doi:10.1088/0967-3334/35/12/2415.
  2. Levrero, F.; Margetts, L.; et al. (2016). "Evaluating the macroscopic yield behaviour of trabecular bone using a nonlinear homogenisation approach". Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials. 61: 384–396. doi:10.1016/j.jmbbm.2016.04.008.
  3. Gomez, Santiago (Feb 2002). "Crisóstomo Martinez, 1638-1694: the discoverer of trabecular bone". Endocrine. 17 (1): 3–4. doi:10.1385/ENDO:17:1:03. ISSN 1355-008X. PMID 12014701.

External links

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