1. a malignant and invasive growth or tumor, especially one originating in epithelium, tending to recur after excision and to metastasize to other sites.
  2. any disease characterized by such growths.
any evil condition or thing that spreads destructively; blight.
genitive Can·cri [kang-kree] /ˈkæŋ kri/. (initial capital letter) Astronomy. the Crab, a zodiacal constellation between Gemini and Leo.
(initial capital letter) Astrology.
  1. the fourth sign of the zodiac: the cardinal water sign.
  2. a person born under this sign, usually between June 21 and July 22.
(initial capital letter) tropic of. See under tropic(def 1a).

Origin of cancer

1350–1400; Middle English < Latin: literally, crab; Latin stem cancr-, dissimilated from *carcr-, with *carc-r- akin to Greek karkínos, Sanskrit karkata crab; see canker
Related formscan·cer·ous, adjectivecan·cered, adjectivecan·cer·ous·ly, adverbcan·cer·ous·ness, nounnon·can·cer·ous, adjectiveun·can·cer·ous, adjective

Synonyms for cancer Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for cancer

tumor, corruption, malignancy, disease, sickness, canker, C, carcinoma

Examples from the Web for cancer

Contemporary Examples of cancer

Historical Examples of cancer

  • You have cured me of a cancer that four other cancer doctors told me I never could be cured of.

  • Even if there were a cancer cure that is only a part of the problem.

    Now We Are Three

    Joe L. Hensley

  • In 1857 he was attacked by cancer, and died peaceably on the 5th of September of that year.

  • Let him say what he likes when Conrad talks about cancer, he knows Death's hand is over him.

  • Diabetes, tuberculosis, cancer of the stomach, tumor of the brain.

    Life Sentence

    James McConnell

British Dictionary definitions for cancer



any type of malignant growth or tumour, caused by abnormal and uncontrolled cell division: it may spread through the lymphatic system or blood stream to other parts of the body
the condition resulting from this
an evil influence that spreads dangerously
Related formsRelated prefix: carcino-
Derived Formscancerous, adjectivecancerously, adverb

Word Origin for cancer

C14: from Latin: crab, a creeping tumour; related to Greek karkinos crab, Sanskrit karkata


noun Latin genitive Cancri (ˈkæŋkriː)

astronomy a small faint zodiacal constellation in the N hemisphere, lying between Gemini and Leo on the ecliptic and containing the star cluster Praesepe
  1. Also called: the Crabthe fourth sign of the zodiac, symbol ♋, having a cardinal water classification and ruled by the moon. The sun is in this sign between about June 21 and July 22
  2. Also called: Moonchilda person born during a period when the sun is in this sign
tropic of Cancer See tropic (def. 1)


astrology born under or characteristic of Cancer
Also (for senses 2b, 4): Cancerian (kænˈsɪərɪən)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for cancer

Old English cancer "spreading sore, cancer" (also canceradl), from Latin cancer "a crab," later, "malignant tumor," from Greek karkinos, which, like the Modern English word, has three meanings: crab, tumor, and the zodiac constellation (late Old English), from PIE root *qarq- "to be hard" (like the shell of a crab); cf. Sanskrit karkatah "crab," karkarah "hard;" and perhaps cognate with PIE root *qar-tu- "hard, strong," source of English hard.

Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen, among others, noted similarity of crabs to some tumors with swollen veins. Meaning "person born under the zodiac sign of Cancer" is from 1894. The sun being in Cancer at the summer solstice, the constellation had association in Latin writers with the south and with summer heat. Cancer stick "cigarette" is from 1959.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

cancer in Medicine




Any of various malignant neoplasms characterized by the proliferation of anaplastic cells that tend to invade surrounding tissue and metastasize to new body sites.
The pathological condition characterized by such growths.
Related formscancer•ous (kănsər-əs) adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

cancer in Science



A disease characterized by any of various malignant neoplasms composed of abnormal cells that tend to proliferate rapidly and invade surrounding tissue. Without treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation, cancer cells can metastasize to other body sites and cause organ failure and death.
A malignant tumor.
A Closer Look: The human immune system often fights off stray cancer cells just as it does bacteria and viruses. However, when cancer cells establish themselves in the body with their own blood supply and begin replicating out of control, cancer becomes a threatening neoplasm, or tumor. It takes a minimum of one billion cancer cells for a neoplasm to be detectable by conventional radiology and physical examinations. Cancer, which represents more than 100 separate diseases, destroys tissues and organs through invasive growth in a particular part of the body and by metastasizing to distant tissues and organs through the bloodstream or lymph system. Heredity, lifestyle habits (such as smoking), and a person's exposure to certain viruses, toxic chemicals, and excessive radiation can trigger genetic changes that affect cell growth. The altered genes, or oncogenes, direct cells to multiply abnormally, thereby taking on the aggressive and destructive characteristics of cancer. Treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are effective with many cancers, but they also end up killing healthy cells. Gene therapy attempts to correct the faulty DNA that causes the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. Researchers are investigating other treatments, such as immunotherapy (the stimulation of the body's natural defenses), vectorization (aiming chemicals specifically at cancer cells), and nanotechnology (targeting cancer cells with minute objects the size of atoms).


A faint constellation in the Northern Hemisphere near Leo and Gemini. Cancer (the Crab) is the fourth sign of the zodiac.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

cancer in Culture


A disease characterized by rapid growth of cells in the body, often in the form of a tumor. Cancer is invasive — that is, it can spread to surrounding tissues. Although this disease is a leading cause of death in the United States, research has provided considerable insight into its many causes (which may include diet, viruses, or environmental factors) and options for treatment (which include radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, and possibly gene therapy).


The term cancer is often used to describe a nonmedical condition that is undesirable, destructive, and invasive: “Watergate was a cancer on the presidency.”
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.