MDBG's definition of 癌 says:

cancer / carcinoma / also pr. [yan2]

MoE put their main pronunciation of 癌 as:


Which might make it look like a TW thing but 兩岸's entry just reads:


When and/or where is 癌 pronounced yán?

  • Never heard of it.
    – fefe
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 5:34
  • Some HK tv program say yan.
    – sfy
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 6:26
  • Not used today because it sounds the same as 炎(inflammation) Commented May 23, 2018 at 6:35
  • Taiwan people prounce it that way, and in China mandarin context it's always ái.
    – user19549
    Commented May 24, 2018 at 5:28
  • It reads yán in older generation in my hometown when I was young, but totally changed to ái currently.
    – xenophōn
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 2:35

2 Answers 2


From 神農氏

中國傳統醫學對癌症的描述. 癌,系由古代巖、岩、嵒等字轉化而來。因癌瘤之形如岩石,累累堅硬,高突不平,故取其音義而名。

In Chinese traditional medicine, cancer is described as like rock (岩), so it is pronounced as [yan2].

From Wiktionary,

In Mandarin, this character used to be pronounced identically as 岩 (yán). Its pronunciation was changed to ái in December 1962 to avoid the homophony between 癌 (“cancer”) and 炎 (yán, “inflammation”) (compare 肺炎 (fèiyán, “pneumonia”) and 肺癌 (fèi'ái, “lung cancer”)). The new pronunciation ái stems from dialectal pronunciations of 岩 (“rock; cliff”) /ŋai/, influenced by 崖 (yá, yái, “cliff”).

More info in Traditional Chinese


為甚麼“癌”字的讀音會有這些差異呢? “癌”字的最早注音,見於《中華大字典》:“癌讀若嵒。”一九一五年版的《辭源》,也注為“讀如喦”。喦,即岩的異體字。粵音據此一直至今都讀如“岩”。國語也曾一度據此讀如“岩”音。一九二一年,由民國政府的“國語統一籌備會”(魯迅也是該會會員)所訂正的《校改國音字典》,依然將“癌”的國音訂為“碞”。“碞”也是“岩”的異體字。直至今日,台灣也是按照這種讀音,沒有改變。

那麼,內地的普通話為甚麼又要把“癌”字改讀為“皚”音呢? 它又是甚麼時候改讀此音的呢? 原來,內地一直到一九六一年,都是把“癌”讀如“岩”的。當年, 新華字典大修,編者考慮到普通話中的“癌症”和“炎症”讀音完全一樣,容易造成混淆,故參考某些方言的“岩”字讀如“崖”音,於是便推薦“癌”讀“皚”音。一九六二年修訂的直排本《新華字典》,便將“癌”的國音注為ái,並用括號說明“舊讀yán”。一九六五年和一九七三年兩次印行的《現代漢語詞典》試用本,也都把“癌”字的注音改成“ái,(舊讀yán)”。





  • 西南官话 seems to fit the dialectical part as far as I can tell.
    – Mou某
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 8:07

My dictionary (《现代汉语词典》) says:


Which means it used to be read as yan2 in the past.

I don't know how long ago when the "yan2" reading disappeared, but currently the pronunciation is not used.

I personally never heard of the reading of "yan2" in my entire life. Only found it when I checked the dictionary.

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