2 entries found for cancer.
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Main Entry: can·cer
Etymology: Middle English Cancer "`Crab' star group," from Latin cancer "crab, cancer (disease)"; sense 3 directly from Latin cancer "crab, cancer" --related to CANKER, CHANCRE 1capitalized: a group of stars between Gemini and Leo usually pictured as a crab 2capitalizeda: the fourth sign of the zodiac -- see ZODIAC table 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 - can·cer·ous /kan(t)s-(-)rs/ adjective Word History 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.