Medical Terminology for Cancer
© Copyright 1996-2013
4: The Components of Medical Terminology
ContentsComponents 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.
- blast- relates to immature cells
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.
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:
- List of medical roots, suffixes and prefixes
An extensive list of roots, suffixes and prefixes, with examples.
- Medical Etymology
An extensive list of terms with their language of origin.
- Medical Terminology Course
Des Moines University
Free online course.
- Roots, Prefixes, Suffixes - Self Test questions
WebAnatomy, University of Minnesota
This guide by Simon Cotterill
First created 4th March 1996
Last modified: 22nd May 2013