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What is the Difference Between the Medical Suffixes -Ectomy, -Tomy, and -Stomy?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The medical suffixes -ectomy, -tomy or -otomy, and -stomy or -ostomy all describe different types of surgical procedures. While each of these suffixes involves opening up a patient and cutting, the techniques used are quite distinct from each other, as are the end results. Especially for people going into surgery, understanding the difference between these medical suffixes can be critical to understanding the surgical procedure which will be performed.

In an -ectomy, something is actively removed from the body. For example, a woman with breast cancer may receive a lumpectomy, in which lumps of suspected cancerous tissue are removed from the breast. You could think of an -ectomy as a cutting out, which ends with something being taken away. Many -ectomies are invasive, and they are used to treat serious medical conditions such as inflammations and cancers.

A procedure which ends in a -tomy or -otomy is a procedure which involves cutting, but no removal. For example, in a lobotomy, part of the brain is cut away from the rest, but the lobotomized portion is usually not actively removed. An "-otomy" is literally an "incision." These types of procedures are often used in exploratory surgery to get an idea of what is going on in the body without removing anything, as in the case of a gastrotomy, where the stomach is opened to allow a doctor to see the inside.

Procedures which involve a -stomy or -ostomy are surgeries in which a hole is made in the body. These types of procedures are commonly used to insert ports which can be used to deliver nutrition or drugs. One famous type of -stomy is a tracheostomy, a procedure in which a hole is made in the windpipe. The procedure provides instant access to the airway, and it may be used in acute as well as chronic settings.

These medical suffixes are only a few among many terms frequently used in medicine. Understanding the difference can help patients know which type of surgery is under discussion, especially for patients who know their Latin and Greek names for various body parts. Numerous other terms can be used to describe various types of surgical procedures and medical treatments, and some people find the study of medical suffixes and prefixes to be quite interesting, and useful when it comes to watching medical dramas on television.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon147239 — On Jan 28, 2011

@anon146795: Copy and paste it into an email and send it to yourself. That way, you can even underline, etc.

By anon146959 — On Jan 27, 2011

The discussion about the different surgical methods was wonderful. M.D.J.

By anon146795 — On Jan 27, 2011

this is a great article. I cannot find a "Print-friendly" icon here, so I can clip it nicely for my files. Now that I m soon to be 64, and elders in their 80s, healthy but "getting there," it is reasonable to expect some surgery or other soon and to be better - informed is good. thank you. Please add a printer-friendly option.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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