Surgical Terms

A list of common surgical terms, including the meaning and origin of prefixes and suffixes.


A-/An- not, without, less, absent: also, in a particular place or condition (Old English, from an, an alternative for on)
Ab- Away from, off (Indo-European ‘off, away’)
Ad- To, toward (Latin ad, ‘toward, near’)
Aer- Air
Amb- Both, on both sides
Amph- On both sides
Angio- To do with arteries
Ante- Before
Anti- Against, opposite (Greek anti, ‘opposite, against’)
Apo- From, opposed
Auto- Self
Bi- Twice, double
Brachy- Short (Greek brakhus ‘short’)
Brady- Slow
Cardio- The heart
Cata- Down, back, apart (Greek kata)
Cephal- The head
Chole- To do with bile
Chromo- Colour
Circum- Around
Colo- To do with the colon
Con- Together
Cyan- Blue (Greek kuanos, ‘dark blue’)
Contra- Against
Cyst- Bag, bladder
Cyto- Cell
Dacry- Tears
Dactyl- Finger or toe (Greek daktulos)
De- From, not
Deci- Tenth
Demi- Half
Dent- Teeth
Derma- Skin
Di- Two, twice, double
Dia- Through, across (Greek dia)
Diplo- Double
Dis- Apart, absence of
Docho- Relating to a duct
Dys- Bad or abnormal (Greek dus-)
Ect-, Ecto- External, outside (Greek ektos ‘out’)
Eu- Normal
Endo- In, within, inside (Greek endo)
Entero- Small intestine (Greek enteron. ‘in, inside’)
Epi- On, over, above (Greek epi, ‘upon’)
Ex, exo- Out
Extra- Beyond or outside (Latin extra, ‘outside, beyond’)
Fore- Before, in front of
Galacto- Milk
Gastro- The stomach
Genic- Producing or related to genes (Greek genos, ‘offspring, race’)
Glosso- The tongue
Haem- Blood (Greek haima)
Hemi- Half, partial (Greek hemi-)
Hepato- Liver
Hetero- Other, dissimilar
Holo- All
Homo- Same, similar
Hydro- Water or liquid (Greek hudor)
Hyper- Above or excessive (Greek huper)
Hypo- Under or low (Greek hupo)
Idio- Private or individual (Greek idios, ‘one’s own, private’)
Ileo- The ileum
Infra- Beneath
Inter- Between, among (Latin inter, ‘between, among’)
Intra- Within or inside (Latin intra)
Intro- Into or inward (Latin intro)
Iso- Equal
Juxtra- Near
Kerato- Horn-like tissue, cornea (Greek keras, ‘horn’)
Kinese- Movement
Lact- Milk
Laparo- Abdomen, loin
Laryngo- Larynx
Latero- Side
Lepto- Thin, light, frail
Leuko- White
Litho- Stone or callculus (Greek lithos, ‘stone’)
Macro- Large
Mal- Bad
Medi- Middle
Mega- Large
Melano- Black
Meno- Menopause
Meso- Middle, intermediate (Greek mesos)
Meta- Later, behind (Greek meta, ‘beside, after’)
Micro- Small
Mio- Less, smaller
Mono- Single
Multi- Many
Myco- Fungus, fungi (Greek mukes. ‘slimy’)
Myo- Muscle
Myelo- Marrow
Myxo- Mucus
Neo- New, recent (Greek neos)
Nephro- Kidney
Neuro- Nerves
Non- No
Ob- Against
Oculo- Eye
Odont- Tooth
Oligo- Few
Omo- Shoulder
Oo- Ovum, egg (Greek oion)
Opisth- Backward
Orchid- Testicle
Ortho- Correct; straight (Greek orthos, ‘straight, right’)
Os- Mouth, bone
Osteo- Bone (Greek osteon)
Oxy- Sharp
Pachy- Thick
Pan- All (Greek ‘all’)
Para- Beside, faulty (Greek para)
Path- Disease
Per- Going through a structure
Peri- Around (Greek peri)
Pleo- More
Pneu-, Pneumo- Lungs, breathing
Pod- Foot
Poikilo- Iregular, varied
Poly- More than one (Greek polus, ‘much’)
Post- After
Pre- Before
Pro- Before
Procto- Anus, rectum (Greek proktos)
Proto- First
Pseudo- False, spurious (Greek pseud ‘to lie’)
Psych- Mind
Py- Pus
Pyelo- Relating to the pelvis of the kidney
Re- Again
Retro- Backward
Rhino- Nose, nasal (Greek rhis, ‘nose’)
Sacro- Sacrum
Salpingo- Fallopian tube
Sarco- Flesh
Sclero- Hard
Scoto- Darkness
Somato- Relating to the body
Steato- Fat (Greek steat)
Stetho- Chest
Sub- Under, below, beneath (Latin sub, ‘under’)
Supra- Over, on top of (Latin supra, ‘above, beyond’)
Syn- With, together
Tachy- Accelerated, rapid (Greek takhus, ‘swift’)
Tampon- To plug (French tampon)
Thermo- Heat
Thyro- Thyroid
Trans- Going across a structure (Latin trans, ‘across, over, through’)
Tropho- Nourishment, nutrition
Uni- One, single (Latin unus)
Uro- Urine
Vaso- A vessel
Verm- Worm-like
Xanth- Yellow


-aceous Resembling (Latin, ‘related to’)
-ade An action (Latin –ata)
-aemia Blood (Greek haima, ‘blood’)
-aesthesia, -esthesia Sensation
-agogue Substance promoting a flow of something (Greek agogos, ‘a drawing off’)
-algia Pain (Greek algos, ‘pain’)
-cardial Relating to the heart (Greek kardia, ‘heart’)
-cele Tumor, cyst, hernia
-cephalic Head (Greek kephale, ‘head’)
-cide Causing death
-coel(e) A cavity (Greek koilos, ‘hollow’) e.g. hydrocoele
-cyst A fluid filled sac
-cyte Cell e.g. phagocyte
-creas Flesh (Greek kreas, ‘flesh’) e.g. pancreas
-dynia Pain
-ectasia Dilatation of ducts
-ectomy Surgical excision of a part of the body (Latin -ectomia, ‘cutting out’) e.g. tonsillectomy – excision of the tonsils
-fuge To drive away
-genic The capacity to produce (Greek -genus, ‘born’)
-gogue To make flow
-gram An imaging technique using contrast medium
-itis Inflammation (Greek) e.g. appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix)
-lasis Condition, pathological state
-lysis Set free, disintegrate
-megaly Anormal enlargement (Greek megal-) e.g. splenomegaly
-morphic Something that has a particular form, shape, or structure (Greek morphe)  e.g. pleomorphic
-nexal From ‘nexus’ indicating a connection or link e.g. adnexal
-oid Shape, resemblance
-oma A tumour (Latin) e.g. hepatoma – a tumour of the liver
-osis Abnormal condition, process (Greek)
-oscopy Inspection of a cavity
-ostomy A connection between two hollow organs e.g. cholecystoduodenostomy – an anastomosis between the gall bladder and the duodenum
-ostosis Formation of bone (Greek osteon, ‘bone’)
-otomy To cut into a part of the body (Latin -tomia, ‘cutting’) e.g. laparotomy – an incision into the peritoneum
-penia Lack
-phagia Eating (Greek phagein ‘to eat’)
-pathy Disorder or disease (Greek pathos)
-plasia Growth or formation (Greek plassein, ‘to form, mould’)
-plasty Surgical revision e.g. pyloroplasty (Greek plastos, ‘refashion’)
-plegia Paralysis
-pnoea Breath, respiration
-poiesis Production
-rhage Flow
-rhaphy Suturing
-rrhoea Flow, discharge (Greek rhein, ‘to flow’)
-sclerosis Dryness, hardness
-scopy To see
-stomosis To create an outlet
-systole Contraction of the heart (Greek sustole ‘to contract’)
-tomy Cutting
-trophic Nourishment
-tropic Having an affinity for, turning towards
-uretic To do with urine


Abscess A localised collection of pus (Latin abscessus, ‘to go away’ - referring to bodily humours going away in the pus)
Adenoma A benign epithelial tumour of glandular origin
Aneurysm Dilatation of an artery (Greek aneurusma, ‘dilation, swelling’)
Antegrade Going in the direction of flow, e.g. antegrade pyelogram
Arrhythmia Disturbance or irregularity of the heartbeat
Axillary Of, relating to, or located near the axilla (armpit)
Ballotment To toss about (French)
Bifurcation To divide into two parts or branches
Biliary Of or relating to bile, the bile ducts, or the gallbladder
Cannulation The insertion of a cannula or tube into a hollow body organ
Capillary A tube of small internal diameter
Cirrhosis Chronic degenerative disease of the liver
Claudication Claudius I (10BC – 54AD), Emperor of Rome had a limp, possibly due to polio. Hence the Latin term claudus for ‘lame’.
Colitis Inflammation of the colon
Concomitant Occurring or existing concurrently
Cutaneous Relating to or existing on or affecting the skin
Diverticulum Plural diverticula (hence, use of the term ‘diverticulae’ is erroneous)
Dysplasia Abnormal development or growth of tissues, organs, or cells
Embolus A blood clot that becomes lodged in a blood vessel and obstructs it (Greek embolos, ‘peg, stopper, wedge’)
Empyema A collection of pus in a body cavity
Endarterectomy Surgical removal of the inner lining of an artery that is clogged with atherosclerosis
En bloc On mass; all together
Fistula A pipe or tube (Latin), plural fistulae. An abnormal communication between two hollow viscera, or one hollow viscera and the skin. It is conventional to name the diseased viscus first i.e. colovesical fistula due to diverticula disease; whereas, vesicocolic fistula from a bladder cancer.
Fundoplication A surgical procedure involving making tucks in the fundus of the stomach around the lower end of the oesophagus
Ganglioma A tumour of a ganglion
Gangrene Death of tissue with putrefaction, sometimes referred to as ‘wet’ gangrene (Greek gaggraina, ‘death of tissue). C.f. necrosis, mummification
Haematoma A swelling containing blood
Haemorrhage Heavy bleeding from ruptured blood vessels
Haemorrhoid Pain caused by venous swelling at or inside the anal sphincter
Hepatic Of, relating to, or resembling the liver; acting on or occurring in the liver
Hernia The abnormal protrusion of the contents of a cavity beyond the normal confines of that cavity
Hydatid Cyst filled with liquid; forms as a result of infestation by tapeworm larvae
Ileus Intestinal obstruction
Infarction Infarct: localized necrosis resulting from obstruction of the blood supply
Inguinal Of, relating to, or located in the groin
Intussusception The enfolding of one segment of the intestine within another
Ischaemia An inadequate supply of blood to a part of the body caused by blockage of an artery
Keloid An area of raised pink or red fibrous scar tissue at the edges of a wound or incision (Greek khele, ‘crab claw’)
Laparoscopy Laparotomy performed with a laparoscope that makes a small incision to examine the abdominal cavity
Lymphoma Any of various usually malignant tumours that arise in the lymph nodes or in other lymphoid tissue
Maxillary Of or relating to a jaw or jawbone, especially the upper one
Mesenteric Of or relating to or located in a mesentery
Mesothelioma A form of carcinoma of the mesothelium lining lungs or abdomen or heart; usually associated with exposure to asbestos dust
Metastasis The spreading of a disease (especially cancer) to another part of the body
Mummification Death of tissue with desiccation rather than putrefaction, sometimes referred to as ‘dry’ gangrene. (French momifier, ‘to dry out and shrivel’)
Necrosis Death of tissue with structural evidence of such death
Nephrectomy Surgical removal of a kidney
Occlusion Closure or blockage (as of a blood vessel)
Omental Pertaining to the omentum (a fold of peritoneum supporting the viscera)
Ossification The developmental process of bone formation
Paediatric Of or relating to the medical care of children
Perfusion Pumping a liquid into an organ or tissue (especially by way of blood vessels)
Peritoneal Of or relating to or affecting the peritoneum
Popliteal Of or relating to the area behind the knee joint
Psoas Either of two muscles of the abdomen and pelvis that flex the trunk and rotate the thigh
Retrograde Going a reverse direction against flow e.g. endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatogram (ERCP)
Sebaceous Greasy
Sepsis The presence of pus-forming bacteria or their toxins in the blood or tissues
Sigmoid Curved in two directions (like the letter S)
Sinus A blind tract lined with granulation tissue hollow or gulf (Latin, ‘curve, fold, hollow’)
Slough A piece of dead soft tissue or water (Old English sloh, a hole or low area in the ground filled with mud)
Splenic Of or relating to the spleen
Squamous Covered with or formed of scales; scaly
Stent An artificial tube inserted into a tubular organ to keep it open
Stoma Surgical opening: an artificial opening made in an organ, especially an opening in the colon (colostomy) or ileum (ileostomy) made via the abdomen. (Greek, ‘mouth’). Plural stomata
Subacute Used to describe a medical condition that develops less rapidly and with less severity than an acute condition
Suture The fine thread or other material used surgically to close a wound or join tissues; an immovable joint (especially between the bones of the skull)
Thrombus A blood clot that forms in a blood vessel and remains at the site of formation (Greek thrombos, ‘clot’)
Tomography Obtaining pictures of the interior of the body
Tonsillar Of or pertaining to the tonsils
Ulcer A non-traumatic discontinuity of an epithelial surface (Latin ulcer, ‘a sore’)
Varicose veins Dilated, lengthened, and tortuous veins
Ventricular Of or relating to a ventricle (of the heart or brain)

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