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Why is the disease cancer called cancer?


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August 14, 2012 10:02AM

The word cancer is Latin for "crab". Its use for cancer goes back to Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC - ca. 370 BC) (, who is said to have derived it from the appearance of the cut surface of a solid malignant tumour, with "the veins stretched on all sides as the animal the crab has its feet, whence it derives its name".

As early as the 16th century the word "canker" was used in medival English for disease in crops and later for extraneous growth or any of various types of non-healing sore or ulcer. Later it came to be used in the modern medical sense, frequently with a distinguishing word usually indicating the type or site of origin of the cancer. (Oxford English Dictionary)

The reason Hippocrates saw what he did when he cut into malignant tumors is because malignant tumors have "angiogenesis"; the ability to create new blood vessels to feed and support the tumor by linking it to an exisiting blood supply. By the time the host died and was autopsied, the tumor (frequently round in appearance) had a crab-like appearance. Therefore it was called "cancer" after the astrological star sign and horoscope.