Princess of Wales cancer diagnosis: outcomes for patients over 40

Risk varies depending on age and the type of cancer detected

The Princess of Wales has been diagnosed with cancer. EPA
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The Princess of Wales started a course of preventive chemotherapy in February after being diagnosed with cancer, she revealed on Friday.

In a video message sharing her diagnosis, Princess Kate said that she is “getting stronger every day” and “focusing on the things that will help me heal; in my mind, body and spirits”.

The announcement comes after weeks of public speculation about her health following a recent stay in hospital for abdominal surgery.

The 42-year-old princess was admitted to hospital on January 16 and at the time, her condition was thought to be non-cancerous but tests after the successful operation discovered the disease.

The type of cancer has not been disclosed.

Kensington Palace has not said where the princess is being treated but it is understood that in selecting healthcare providers, a balance of factors was considered by her medical team, including the most appropriate specialists, the potential impact on other patients at the hospital, plus her privacy and security.

The health news follows King Charles III’s cancer diagnosis, with the condition discovered during a recent hospital stay.

According to Cancer Research UK:

  • Cancer survival is generally higher in people diagnosed aged under 40 years old, with the exception of breast, bowel and prostate cancers, where survival is highest in middle age.
  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, followed by prostate cancer, lung cancer and bowel cancer.
  • The five-year net survival rate for women in their 40s varies by type of cancer: breast cancer 90 per cent, cervix 80 per cent, ovary 74 per cent and uterus 86 per cent.
  • Cancer survival is generally higher in women than in men.
  • Survival rates have been improving steadily over the past few decades thanks to earlier diagnosis and better treatments.
  • Half of all people diagnosed with cancer in England and Wales survive for 10 years or more.

More than 375,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK and there are more than 167,000 deaths from the disease.

Princess of Wales reveals she is being treated for cancer

Princess of Wales reveals she is being treated for cancer

How chemotherapy works

Chemotherapy kills existing cancer cells and can help prevent the disease coming back.

There are many different types of chemotherapy, but the most common types are tablets and liquids that are put directly into the vein. Sometimes, people have more than one type of chemotherapy.

The treatment can be given before or after surgery, or on its own.

It can also be given in a palliative way, when the cancer has spread and chemotherapy is not being used to cure the disease but to help ease symptoms.

Chemotherapy can be used even when surgeons believe they have removed all the cancer, owing to the risk the disease might come back.

This can lower the risk of a cancer recurrence or a new cancer.

It can also be combined with other treatments to make them more effective, such as when it is used alongside radiotherapy.

How long a patient needs treatment also depends on the stage and type of cancer.

Side effects of chemotherapy occur because healthy cells are damaged alongside cancer cells.

Treatment can therefore make people feel tired and nauseous, and cause them to lose their hair.

People undergoing chemotherapy are also at an increased risk of getting infections, dry, sore or itchy skin and bowel issues.

Sometimes, other medicines are given to patients to help with these side effects.

Britain's position in the league table

A report this year commissioned by Cancer Research UK said progress in cancer survival in the country is at its slowest in 50 years.

In a benchmark exercise involving several provinces of Canada and parts of the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand between 1995 and 2007, survival rates were higher in Australia, Canada and Sweden, intermediate in Norway and lower in Denmark and the UK.

Britain was ninth in terms of five-year survival rates from colon cancer; eighth for rectal cancer; seventh for lung, pancreatic and stomach; and sixth for ovarian.

Princess's healthy lifestyle

The princess is known for being fit, sporty and competitive. She enjoys playing tennis and is a fan of cold-water swimming.

She has focused on mental health and early childhood as a working royal and is known to meticulously research the issues facing the charities she works with.

Kensington Palace said Princess Kate wanted to share the information about her diagnosis when she and her husband the Prince of Wales “felt it was right for them as a family”. Her children George, 10, Charlotte, eight, and Louis, five, are now away from school on Easter holidays.

The news followed speculation on social media over the past few days about an impending royal announcement.

It also follows reports of a staff member at the London Clinic, where the princess underwent major abdominal surgery in January, allegedly attempting to gain access to her private medical records.

Announcement could help others

The head of the NHS has said she is sorry to hear the “shocking news” of the Princess of Wales’s cancer diagnosis and has praised her bravery in speaking about it.

NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said it could help other people in a similar situation.

“On behalf of the NHS, I’m really sorry to hear this shocking news,” Ms Pritchard said in a statement.

“Our thoughts are with the Princess of Wales and the Royal Family, especially while her treatment continues.

“We know how difficult a diagnosis and treatment journey can be for patients and their families.

“Speaking out about it is really brave and it can help others to get worrying signs and symptoms checked.

“If you’re worried about cancer, the NHS website has more information.”

How princess's treatment developed

The princess was secretly admitted to The London Clinic and underwent abdominal surgery in mid-January.

She went to the clinic rather than King Edward VII’s Hospital which is usually the go-to establishment for royal medical matters.

The next day, Kensington Palace announced the princess’s operation and said she would remain in the private hospital for 10-14 days and was not expected to return to duties until after Easter, taking up to three months to recover.

On March 4, she was photographed for the first time since her surgery. She was pictured by paparazzi near Windsor Castle in the passenger seat of a car, according to TMZ.

The news site said she was wearing dark sunglasses in the black Audi which was being driven by her mother, Carole Middleton.

On March 10, questions were raised that the first official picture of the Princess of Wales to be released after her abdominal surgery, to mark Mother's Day, may have been manipulated before it was posted on social media by Kensington Palace.

The picture shows the princess sitting in a chair with her arms around Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, who are on either side of her, with Prince George standing behind, as all four smile at the camera.

The photograph was withdrawn by international picture agencies later the same day because of concerns that the image had been manipulated.

A week later, she was filmed smiling alongside her husband during a visit to a farm shop in Windsor but this did nothing to reassure the public about her absence from public life.

King Charles treated for cancer

The princess's treatment coincides with her father-in-law King Charles's cancer diagnosis.

More than two decades ago, King Charles, who was Prince of Wales at the time, gave a speech in which he said he was told being diagnosed with a cancer was like “suddenly finding yourself in an unknown land”.

The monarch, a patron of the Macmillan Cancer Support charity since 1997, found himself in that position after being diagnosed with the disease, which will ultimately affect one in two people during their lifetime.

At the age of 75, King Charles is in the most at-risk group.

The risk increases because the cells in our bodies deteriorate over time and as damage builds, cancer can develop.

Queen Elizabeth II, the king's mother, was reportedly suffering from multiple myeloma at the time of her death in 2022.

Her father, King George VI, who suffered from lung cancer, died 72 years ago to the day on February 6, 1952, due to a blood clot that caused a coronary thrombosis, the blockage of arteries that carry blood to the heart, leading to a sudden collapse and fatal heart failure.

His death came as a shock to the public and the royal family, as even the king had not been informed of the full extent of his illness.

That case is in stark contrast to that of the current monarch, who wanted to make his diagnosis public because of his long-running support for cancer charities.

Updated: March 22, 2024, 8:03 PM