1.5 Suffixes

A suffix is a word part that is located at the end of a word. It can alter the meaning of a medical term. It is important to spell and pronounce suffixes correctly. When writing a suffix, if it is not in a medical term, you must place a “-” before the suffix.

Suffixes are not always explicitly stated in the definition of a word, and it is common that suffixes are not explicitly stated when defining a medical term in the workplace. However, when transcribing or reading a medical report, the suffix is always clearly written. In order to properly spell and pronounce medical terms, it is helpful to learn the suffixes. We will review a few common suffixes and terms related to them, and then continue learning about suffixes in Chapter 2.

Table 1.7. Suffixes  

-algia condition of pain arthralgia
-cision process of cutting incision
-dipsia thirst polydipsia
-ectomy removal, excision, cutting out appendectomy
-gram record mammogram


image of an incision
Fig, 1.10
Fig. 1.11










Key Concepts

Incisions are done for many reasons, and Fig. 1.10 is an image of surgeon making an abdominal incision. The surgeon could possibly be doing an exploratory laparotomy or some form of resection. Incision has the suffix -cision, which means “process of cutting.”

Mammograms are a common diagnostic procedure, and Fig. 1.11 is an image of a mammogram being performed. Breast tissue goes on the film plate, then the X-ray machine above produces an image of the breast tissue. Mammograms are done routinely as a way of diagnosing, or ruling out, breast cancer. The term mammogram has the suffix -gram, meaning “record” and mamm/o, meaning “breast,” so the term means “record of the breast.” 



Table 1.8. Suffixes

-graphy process of recording electrocardiography
-ic pertaining to gastric
-ine pertaining to intrauterine
-ism condition, process hypothyroidism
-itis inflammation arthritis
-lysis breakdown, separate dialysis


peritoneal dialysis
Fig. 1.12
Fig. 1.13









Key Concepts

When a patient’s kidneys are not working effectively, the patient may be placed on dialysis (Kidney Foundation of Canada, 2022). Dialysis literally means “breakdown or separation complete,” which refers to the process of completely breaking down a patient’s blood, removing wastes, and then returning the blood to the patient’s body.

Peritoneal dialysis is shown in Fig. 1.12. This type of dialysis is performed by inserting a catheter into the peritoneal cavity, then instilling a fluid into the area so that wastes can move from the patient’s body into the fluid. Then the fluid is drained back into the bag (Kidney Foundation of Canada, 2022).

Patients undergo dialysis because their kidneys can no longer remove wastes from the body. It is typically used until the patient finds a suitable kidney for transplant (Kidney Foundation of Canada, 2022).


Table 1.9. Suffixes

-mission to send remission
-mortem death postmortem
-oma tumour, mass hepatoma
-opsy to view biopsy
-osis abnormal condition nephrosis
-ous pertaining to intravenous
-partum birth antepartum


biopsy specimen
Fig. 1.14
pregnant women
Fig. 1.15










Key Concepts

Biopsies are common diagnostic tests. Biopsy samples can be taken from many parts of the human body and are then sent to a lab for analysis; an example is shown in Fig. 1.14. The term biopsy has the suffix -opsy, meaning “to view.”

Fig. 1.15 shows an image of a pregnant women. In medical terms, the time before a women delivers the baby is called antepartum. This term literally means “birth before” or “before birth.” The time after a women delivers a baby is called postpartum, or “after birth.” Both terms have the suffix -partum, meaning “birth.”


Table 1.10. Suffixes

-pnea breathing apnea
-rrhea flow, discharge rhinorrhea
-scope instrument to visually examine laparoscope
-scopy process of visual examination colonoscopy
-section to cut resection
-sis state of prognosis
-stasis to stand, to place, to stop metastasis
-stomy opening tracheostomy
-tension pressure hypertension
-tomy process of cutting into craniotomy
-um structure pericardium
-y process, condition dysentery 


Key Concepts

Notice that the suffix -ectomy has the suffix -tomy within it, but they have very different meanings. The suffix -ectomy means “removal of,” whereas the suffix -tomy means “to cut into.”

If a term has the suffix -ectomy, then it always has the meaning “removal of”; for example, nephrectomy means “removal of the kidney.” If you change the suffix to -tomy, making the term nephrotomy, it would mean “to cut into the kidney.” Note that changing the suffix results in the term having two very different meanings.

It is also important to note the difference between -tomy and -stomy because they are both similar. As stated above, the suffix -tomy means “to cut into,” but the suffix -stomy means “opening.” Openings such as a tracheostomy, an opening into the trachea to assist with breathing, or a colostomy, which is often done to assist with conditions such as bowel obstructions, are usually permanent or semi-permanent.



sleep apnea machine
Fig. 1.16
Fig. 1.17











Key Concepts

The term apnea has the suffix -pnea, meaning “breathing.” Fig. 1.16 is an image of a person who has a particular kind of apnea called sleep apnea. If a person has sleep apnea, they sometimes stop breathing while they are sleeping and often awake feeling very tired. A CPAP machine is often prescribed for people who have sleep apnea to ensure that they continue to breath normally during sleep.

Fig. 1.17 shows an arthroscope. Patients often have procedures done with scopes to visually exam parts of the body. The suffix -scope means “an instrument to visually examine,” and in this case, it is being used to examine a “joint” (arthr/o).









Unless otherwise indicated, material on this page has been adapted from the following resource:

Carter, K., & Rutherford, M. (2020). Building a medical terminology foundation. eCampusOntario. https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/medicalterminology/ licensed under CC BY 4.0



Kidney Foundation of Canada. (2022). Dialysis. https://kidney.ca/Kidney-Health/Living-With-Kidney-Failure/Dialysis


Image Credits
(Images are listed in order of appearance)

Incisión de Piel by Alexperf, CC BY 3.0

Blausen 0628 Mammogram by BruceBlaus, CC BY 3.0

Peritoneal dialysis by National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, Public domain

HCCH hemodialysis machine by Jackhsiao, Public domain

Punch biopsy by Ajay Kumar Chaurasiya, CC BY-SA 4.0

Pregnant woman by Ken Hammond, Public domain

Depiction of a Sleep Apnea patient using a CPCP machine by myUpchar , CC BY-SA 4.0

Arthroskopie by Ligamentaxis, CC BY-SA 4.0



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The Language of Medical Terminology Copyright © 2022 by Lisa Sturdy and Susanne Erickson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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