Medical Terminology for Cancer

© Copyright 1996-2013

4: The Components of Medical Terminology

Found this page useful?


Components of Medical Words
Root Words
Further Reading

Components of Medical Words

Most medical terms are compound words made up of root words which are combined with prefixes (at the start of a word) and suffixes (at the end of a word). Thus medical terms that may at first seem very complex can be broken down into their component parts to give you a basic idea of their meaning. For example the word neuroblastoma

neuro- means nerve
blast- relates to immature cells
-oma means tumour.

Therefore by breaking down a complex word we can see that neuroblastoma literally means a tumour made up of immature nerve cells.

To take another type of tumour: osteogenic sarcoma

osteo- means bone
-genic means creating / causing

Thus we can see that this is a bone forming tumour.

All medical terms have a root word. They may also have a prefix, a suffix, or both a prefix and a suffix.

Prefixes have a droppable "o", which acts to connect the prefix to root words which begin with a consonant. As a general rule, the "o" is dropped when connecting to a root word beginning with a vowel (a, e, i, i, u).

Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. Most medical words derive from ancient Greek and Latin.

Root Words

Some examples of root words:-

BLAST- germ, immature cell blastoma = a cancer made of immature cells
CARCIN- cancer carcinogenic = cancer causing
CARDIO- heart cardiotoxicity = toxicity to the heart
CYTO- cell cytotoxic = toxic to the cell
DERMA- skin dermatitis = inflammation of the skin
HISTIO- tissue histology = study of tissue
HEPATI- liver hepatoblastoma = liver cancer
MALIGN- bad / harmful malignant = growing, spreading
NEPHRO- kidney nephrotoxic = harmful to the kidneys
NEURO- nerves neurob1ast = an immature nerve cell
ONCO- mass / tumour oncology = the study of cancer
OSTEO- bone / bony tissue osteosarcoma = bone cancer
PAED- child paediatric oncology = study of childhood cancer
SARCO- tissue sarcoma = tumour of bone, muscle, or connective tissue
TOXO- poison toxicology = study of poisons


Some examples of suffixes:-

-AEMIA condition of blood leukaemia = cancer of blood cells
-ECTOMY excision / removal nephrectomy = excision of a kidney
-ITIS inflammation hepatitis = inflammation of the liver
-OLOGY study / science of cytology = the study of cells
-OMA tumour retinoblastoma = tumour of the eye
-PATHY disease neuropathy = disease of the nervous system
-OSIS disease /condition necrosis = dying cells


Some examples of prefixes:-

AN-, A- without / lack of anaemia = lack of red blood cells
AB- away from abnormal = away from the normal
AD- near / toward adrenal gland = gland near to the kidney
BI- two / both bilateral Wilm's = tumour in both kidneys
DYS- difficult / painful dysfunction = not working properly
ECTO- outside ectopic pregnancy = outside the uterine cavity
ENDO- inside endoscope = an instrument to look inside the body cavities or organs
EPI- upon epidermis = the outer layer of skin
HYPER- excessive / above hyperglycaemia = excessive blood sugar levels
HYPO- beneath / below hypodermic = injection below the skin
INTER- between intercostal = between the ribs
INTRA- within / Inside intravenous = into a vein
PARA- beside, about, near parathyroid = beside the thyroid gland
PERI- around pericardium = membrane around the heart
PRE- before prenatal = before birth
POST- after post surgical stage = stage after surgery
SUB- under / below submucosa = tissue below mucus membrane
SYN- together with syndrome = group of symptoms occurring together

Further Reading (4 links)

The chapters about the body systems in this guide include further examples of roots, prefixes and suffixes. Here are some additional resources:
Main Contents of this Guide Alphabetical Index Next Chapter: The Integumentary System (Skin)

This guide by Simon Cotterill

First created 4th March 1996
Last modified: 1st February 2014

Medical Terminology for Cancer

What is Cancer?
Basic Terms
Components of Terminology

Body Systems

© 1996-2013