cancer

noun

can·​cer ˈkan(t)-sər How to pronounce cancer (audio)
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
4
a
: an enlarged tumorlike plant growth (such as that of crown gall)
b
: a plant disease marked by such growths
cancerous
ˈkan(t)s-rəs How to pronounce cancer (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.

Example Sentences

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.
Recent Examples on the Web Joe Biden had considered running for president in the 2016 election but decided not to go forward with it in late 2015, citing his grief about the death of his son Beau, who succumbed to brain cancer earlier that year. Annie Linskey, WSJ, 21 Jan. 2023 After losing his first wife Cassandra Harris to ovarian cancer in 1991, Brosnan married journalist Keely Shaye Smith in 2000. Alexia Fernández, Peoplemag, 18 Jan. 2023 Smarth, who succumbed to breast cancer in 2015, was known for her style of house dancing, essentially freestyle movement informed by African diasporic culture that became a hallmark of the underground club scene. Marcia Luttrellcontributor, San Diego Union-Tribune, 15 Jan. 2023 At least 45 attribute the victims’ illness or death to cancer. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 6 Jan. 2023 Senescence can also contribute to cancer, as Campisi has described in the Annual Review of Physiology, but the relationship is multifaceted. Amber Dance, Smithsonian Magazine, 29 Dec. 2022 This refers to cancer that has spread beyond its primary location. Katherine Hignett, Forbes, 29 Dec. 2022 Dowd, an original Hooters girl, succumbed to breast cancer in 2007. Stephanie Nolasco, Fox News, 26 Dec. 2022 While rare, these mistakes could theoretically give rise to cancer. Emily Mullin, WIRED, 23 Dec. 2022 See More

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.

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near cancer

Cite this Entry

“Cancer.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cancer. Accessed 2 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition

cancer

noun
can·​cer ˈkan(t)-sər How to pronounce cancer (audio)
1
capitalized : a group of stars between Gemini and Leo usually pictured as a crab
2
capitalized
a
: the fourth sign of the zodiac see zodiac
b
: a person whose sign of the zodiac is Cancer
3
: a tumor that tends to spread locally and to other parts of the body and often causes death if not treated
also : an abnormal state marked by such tumors
4
: a dangerous evil that destroys slowly
cancerous adjective

Medical Definition

cancer

noun
can·​cer ˈkan(t)-sər How to pronounce cancer (audio)
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
cancerous adjective
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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