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How can I decipher common cancer terms?

Have you ever sat in your doctor's office, wondering what in the world he or she is talking about? Sometimes, doctors use big words to describe an illness or disease. Most medical words have Greek or Latin roots. If you learn the roots, you can more easily understand the words.

Here is a list of common prefixes used in cancer treatment and the meanings of those prefixes:

  • arthro- (joint)
  • broncho- (windpipe)
  • brachi- (arm)
  • cardio- (heart)
  • chole- (gall bladder)
  • cephalo- (head)
  • chondro- (cartilage)
  • cranio- (skull)
  • derm- or dermato- (skin)
  • entero- (intestine)
  • gyno- (women)
  • gastro- (stomach)
  • hepato- (liver)
  • hemo-, hemato-, hemia- (blood)
  • myo- (muscle)
  • neuro- (nerve)
  • leuko- (white)
  • osteo (bone)
  • stoma- (mouth)

If you see the suffix -oma in terms such as lipoma or fibroma, that usually indicates a benign tumor.

The ending -carcinoma (as in "squamous cell carcinoma") as well as the suffix -sarcoma (as in "rhabdomyosarcoma") usually indicate a malignant tumor. The endings –lymphoma (as in the terms such as Burkitt's lymphoma) and -leukemia (as in chronic myelocytic leukemia) also usually indicate a malignant process.

Now when you hear a word like osteosarcoma, which is a malignant cancer of the bone, it's a bit easier to understand.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.