can·​cer | \ ˈkan(t)-sər How to pronounce cancer (audio) \

Definition of cancer

1 capitalized

a : a northern zodiacal constellation between Gemini and Leo
b(1) : the fourth sign of the zodiac in astrology — see Signs of the Zodiac Table
(2) : one born under the sign of Cancer I'm a Taurus, but my best friend is a Cancer.

2 [ Latin, crab, cancer ]

a : a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis
b : an abnormal bodily state marked by such tumors
3 : something evil or malignant that spreads destructively the cancer of hidden resentmentIrish Digest
4a : an enlarged tumorlike plant growth (such as that of crown gall)
b : a plant disease marked by such growths

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Other Words from cancer

cancerous \ ˈkan(t)s-​rəs How to pronounce cancerous (audio) , ˈkan(t)-​sə-​ \ adjective
cancerously adverb

Did You Know?

The Latin word cancer, meaning “crab,” was also given as a name to several diseases. One of the diseases was the abnormal, spreading mass of tissue we call a tumor. A possible explanation for this extended use of cancer is that the Romans thought some tumors looked like many-legged crabs. A French descendant of this Latin word was borrowed into English as canker. It is now applied to several plant and animal disorders. In the 14th century the Latin word cancer in the sense of “tumor” was borrowed directly into English, giving us our modern spelling and sense.

Examples of cancer in a Sentence

He was diagnosed with cancer. She learned that she has cancer. Eating certain foods may help reduce the risk of cancer. Advanced cancers are more difficult to treat. I'm a Taurus, but my best friend is a Cancer.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Taylor Swift surprised a teen fan who’s battling stage four cancer on Wednesday by donating $10,000 to go towards her medical bills. Melody Chiu,, "Taylor Swift Donates $10,000 to Fan Battling Cancer: 'I Hope I Can Give You a Hug in Person Soon'," 5 Sep. 2019 But with the death of Beth Chapman at the age of 51 in in June after battling throat cancer, viewers will also watch this season as that family grapples with her illness. Lisa Respers France, CNN, "Beth and Duane Chapman: See the emotional moment they learned her cancer returned," 5 Sep. 2019 In 2008, a young royal correspondent for the Evening Standard wrote that Prince Philip, the queen’s husband, was battling prostate cancer. K.j. Yossman, Marie Claire, "Inside the Cutthroat World of Royal Gossips," 5 Sep. 2019 The tearjerker, which Swift wrote with Jack Antonoff, is a get-well-soon ode to the singer’s mother, Andrea, who is battling cancer. Lauren Huff,, "Dixie Chicks hit Hot 100 for first time in 12 years with Taylor Swift collaboration," 3 Sep. 2019 In 2013, Harper inspired the nation with her openness in battling brain cancer and her determination to live to the fullest. Hal Boedeker,, "Valerie Harper: ‘Rhoda’ star dead; she wowed with comedy, courage," 30 Aug. 2019 The split was driven partly by Altria’s share price, which had been languishing below its sum-of-parts value, but also by regulatory hounding of Big Tobacco over its role in causing cancer. The Economist, "Philip Morris and Altria want to merge," 29 Aug. 2019 Big-name corporations such as Halliburton Co. and W.R. Grace & Co. have set up trusts, which are separate from the companies, to settle suits accusing their asbestos-laden products of causing cancer. Jef Feeley, Fortune, "Sackler Family Backs $11B Settlement of Opioid Lawsuits That Would See Purdue Pharma File for Bankruptcy," 28 Aug. 2019 When real estate broker Nancy Owens battled breast cancer for 20 years, the real estate industry rallied around her. R.a. Schuetz, Houston Chronicle, "Luncheon remembering Nancy Owens raising money for breast cancer," 22 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cancer.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of cancer

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for cancer

Middle English, from Latin (genitive Cancri), literally, crab; akin to Greek karkinos crab, cancer

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Statistics for cancer

Last Updated

11 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for cancer

The first known use of cancer was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for cancer



English Language Learners Definition of cancer

: a serious disease caused by cells that are not normal and that can spread to one or many parts of the body
: something bad or dangerous that causes other bad things to happen
: the fourth sign of the zodiac that comes between Gemini and Leo and has a crab as its symbol


can·​cer | \ ˈkan-sər How to pronounce cancer (audio) \

Kids Definition of cancer

: a serious sometimes deadly disease characterized by the growth of abnormal cells that form tumors which may damage or destroy normal body tissue


can·​cer | \ ˈkan(t)-sər How to pronounce cancer (audio) \

Medical Definition of cancer

1 : a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis
2 : an abnormal state marked by a cancer

Other Words from cancer

cancerous \ ˈkan(t)s-​(ə-​)rəs How to pronounce cancerous (audio) \ adjective

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More from Merriam-Webster on cancer

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with cancer

Spanish Central: Translation of cancer

Nglish: Translation of cancer for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cancer for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about cancer

Comments on cancer

What made you want to look up cancer? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


readily or continually undergoing change

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