In the 1967 movie, The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman's character is given career advice in a single word: "plastics." If the movie were made today, the advice might be "plasty" instead.
The suffix "plasty" comes from the Greek, "-plastos", meaning "molded." In medical use, it applies to surgical procedures that repair, restore, replace or improve a part of the body. It's commonly used when referring to the rapidly growing field of cosmetic surgery.
Over time, its use has broadened and, as the examples below show, it can apply to many different types of surgery. Many of these terms may sound unfamiliar because you probably know them by other names:
My guess is that you will hear more and more "plasty" terms as time goes by. New procedures, it seems, are particularly likely to include the term "plasty." That's because the frequency of cosmetic procedures is on the rise and because operations with small incisions to repair (rather than replace) damaged body parts are safer and require less recovery time than other operations. Here are four relatively new procedures that have taken on this suffix. Can you "decode" their meaning? (The answers are below.)
There are other ways doctors describe surgical repair. The most common operation – hernia repair – is called herniorrhaphy. The suffix, "-rrhaphy" means to repair using strong sutures or sewing.
Another common joint operation is called arthrodesis, the surgical fusion of two bones to stabilize the joint and reduce pain. And the term "-pexy" means to suspend or stabilize, as with gastropexy, an operation that attaches the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent excessive movement or twisting of the stomach.
Each of these terms describes some aspect of the operation itself. Each could have used the "plasty" suffix, but some information would have been lost. For example, an arthrodesis is a form of arthroplasty but "-desis" means fusion and is a more accurate and specific term for a procedure that fuses a joint.
It's not always easy to know what your doctor is saying. Knowing what "plasty" means will help you decipher a long list of medical or surgical terms. If you don't understand a term your doctor uses, ask him or her to explain. At least for some of these "plasty" operations, you won't even have to ask.
Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.