EP word of the week (#85): cancro

Today, February 4th, is Cancer Awareness Day, so it feels like a good opportunity to both show awareness of the condition and to present some interesting Portuguese-related trivia.

[o] cancro is the EP word for cancer, while BP uses [o] câncer; they derive from the Ancient Greek καρκίνος and the Latin cancer, both meaning “crab” (from the appearance of a cut malignant tumor, as witnessed by the Greek physiologists Hippocrates and Galen). Brazilians also use Câncer to refer to the constellation of Cancer the Crab (the Portuguese use [o] Caranguejo, our word for crab).

There are several words associated with cancer that have their roots in the Ancient Greek and Latin forms shown above: in Portuguese, the adjectives carcinogéneo (carcinogenic, capable of causing cancer or turning into cancer) and cancerígeno (containing cancer cells, cancerous) are commonly attached to nouns when talking about this condition. For example, [o] material carcinogéneo (carcinogenic material, i.e. asbestos) or [a] célula cancerígena (cancer cell).


EP words of the week will return on Wednesday for a continuation of our second world tour – oh wait, this word can also be included in it!

In European Portuguese, we only use Câncer in one very specific context: when referring to the Tropic of Cancer[o] Trópico de Câncer. For example:

  • Omã é atravessado pelo Trópico de Câncer. Oman is crossed by the Tropic of Cancer.



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