Medical Word Roots Indicating Color

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  • 0:43 Cyan/o
  • 1:33 Erythr/o
  • 2:38 Leuk/o
  • 3:38 Melan/o
  • 5:14 Poli/o
  • 5:58 Xanth/o
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

We are going to learn the various terms that are used to describe color in medical terminology. We will discuss the two different ways in which these terms are used.

Colors in Medical Terminology

As you learn the language of medicine, you will realize that word roots can be categorized based on body systems. Like most rules, there are some exceptions. Some exceptions to this rule are the word roots that are used to describe color. Word roots describing color can pertain to many different body systems and can also explain conditions in many different body systems. The other unique thing about the color terms is that depending on how they are being used, they can be considered a word root or a prefix. There are six color terms that we are going to discuss in this lesson that you will be using regularly.


Cyan/o is the word root and combining form that is derived from the Greek word, kuanos, meaning blue. One very commonly used term containing the word root cyan- is cyanosis. Cyan- is combined with the suffix -osis, which means condition of. Cyanosis is a term used to describe a condition where a person appears blue in color due to a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. Another term is cyanopsia. This contains the suffix -opsia, which means visual condition. This refers to a condition where a person sees everything in the color blue. This is usually a light blue tint and is often associated with cataracts.


The word root and combining form erythr/o refers to the color red, and it is derived from the Greek word erythros. This can appear in terms such as erythrocyte, erythropoietin, and erythrolaryngosis. Erythrocyte means red blood cells since erythro- is joined to the suffix -cyte, which means cells. Erythropoietin is composed of the combining form erythro and the suffix -poietin, which means substance that forms. The term erythropoietin is used to describe substances that form red blood cells. Erythrolaryngosis contains erythro and laryngo along with the suffix -osis. The suffix -osis means condition of, so erythrolaryngosis means the condition of having a red throat or irritated throat. This is an instance of red being used to describe something, so it is a prefix here as opposed to a word root.


The word root and combining form leuk/o is from the Greek word leukos, meaning the color white. There are many terms that include leuk/o. Let's look at some of them now. There are two terms that you have likely heard of at some point. One term is leukocyte and the other term is leukemia. Leukocyte is composed of leuko- and the suffix, -cyte, meaning cell. This term means white blood cell. These are the cells in the body that function in the immune system. Leukemia is composed of the word root, leuk- and the suffix, -emia, meaning blood or blood condition. Leukemia means a blood condition of the white blood cells. This blood condition is characterized by having too many white blood cells in the blood. In both of these terms, leuk/o is a word root since white is a part of the subject of the term.


Melan/o is the term for the color black. Black is used to describe the appearance of a type of cancer known as melanoma. The term melanoma is made of the word parts melan- and -oma. The suffix -oma is defined as tumor. So, a melanoma is a tumor that is black (or black tumor). This cancer affects the pigment in our skin known as melanin. Melanin can also be broken down into its word parts. It is composed of melan- and -in. The suffix -in means a substance, chemical or compound. Therefore, melanin means a substance that is black (or simply, black substance).

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