Medical Terminology for Cavities of the Body

By Beverley Henderson, Jennifer Lee Dorsey

The body is not as solid a structure as it appears on the outside. It has five body cavities and medical terms to accompany them. Each cavity contains organs that are organized (no pun intended) in a neat and orderly fashion.

The five body cavities include the following:

  • The abdominal cavity contains the stomach, intestines, liver, spleen, gallbladder, pancreas, ureters, and kidneys.

  • The cranial cavity, the cavity inside the skull, or the cranium, contains the brain.

  • The pelvic cavity contains the urinary bladder, urethra, part of the large intestine, and the rectum, uterus, and vagina in the female, and prostate in the male.

  • The spinal cavity consists of the spinal column connecting to the cranial cavity.

  • The thoracic or chest cavity contains the esophagus, trachea, lungs, heart, and aorta. This cavity can be divided into two smaller areas. The pleural cavity surrounds the lungs. (Each pleural cavity is lined with a membrane called pleura.Visceral pleura is closest to the lungs. Parietal pleura is closest to the outer wall of the cavity.) The mediastinum is the area between the lungs. It contains the heart, aorta, trachea, esophagus, and thymus gland.

The cranial and spinal cavities are dorsal body cavities, because they are located on the back part of the body. The thoracic, abdominal, and pelvic cavities are ventral body cavities, as they are on the front or belly-side of the body.

The thoracic and abdominal cavities are separated by a muscular partition called the diaphragm. The abdominal and pelvic cavities are not separated and, to really confuse you, together they are frequently referred to as the abdominopelvic cavity.

Root What It Means Example Term What It Means
Cyt/o Cell Cytology Study of cells
Epitheli/o Epithelium Epithelioma Tumor of the skin
Fibr/o Fibrous Fibrosis Condition of the fibrous tissue
Hist/o Tissue Histologist Physician who studies tissue
Lip/o Fat Liposuction Removal of fat cells by suction
Myo Muscle Myositis Inflammation of a muscle
Neur/o Nerve Neuropathy Condition of the nerve
Organ/o Organ Organomegaly Enlargement of an organ
Viscer/o Internal organs Viscera Internal organs

Here are some suffixes pertaining to body structure and organization.

Suffix What It Means Example Term What It Means
-cyte Cell Erythrocyte Red blood cell
-gen Agent that causes Carcinogen Agent causing cancer
-genic Producing Carcinogenic Has cancer-causing properties
-ologist One who studies/practices Cytologist Physician who studies cells
-oma Tumor or swelling Myoma Tumor in the muscle
-osis Abnormal condition Cytosis Abnormal condition of cells
-pathy Disease Neuropathy A disease of the nerves
-plasm Growth or formation Neoplasm A new growth
-sarcoma Malignant tumor Myosarcoma Malignant muscle tumor