What do we know about Princess Catherine’s cancer diagnosis

Catherine, the Princess of Wales, has revealed that she is receiving a preventative course of chemotherapy for an unspecified type of cancer.

In a video statement issued on Friday, Catherine said that when she underwent major abdominal surgery in January, “it was thought that my condition was non-cancerous” but that “tests after the operation found cancer had already been present.”

She said doctors recommended that she do a course of preventative chemotherapy and that she is now in the early stages of that treatment.

Here are some explanations of terms she used and what we know about her diagnosis:

What kind of treatment is Catherine having?

In her video statement, Catherine said she is in the early stages of a course of “preventative chemotherapy.”

Kensington Palace said no additional details about her treatment would be revealed publicly other than that she started it in late February.

WATCH | Kate’s cancer announcement:

Princess of Wales says she’s receiving cancer treatment

Catherine, the Princess of Wales, says in a video released to her social media pages that tests after her surgery revealed ‘cancer had already been present,’ and that she is in the early stages of preventive chemotherapy.

The palace also said it would not say what type of cancer was found.

“We will not be sharing any further private medical information. The Princess has a right to medical privacy as we all do,” the statement said.

What’s preventative chemotherapy?

After successful surgery, chemotherapy is often used to help kill any undetectable cancer cells and to prevent the cancer from coming back or spreading.

“The sort of chemotherapy and the time length of treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer as confirmed by examining the cancer removed at surgery,” said Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick in a release posted on the website of the UK-based Science Media Centre, which works with journalists to disseminate scientific information.

In Canada, preventative chemotherapy is often called adjuvant therapy.

What type and stage of cancer does Catherine have?

Traditionally, types of cancer are named after where they start in the body, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

This could include an organ such as the breasts for solid tumors or the blood for cancers such as leukemia.

The stage of cancer takes into account where a cancer is located, its size, how far it has grown into nearby tissue and if it has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

None of these are public in Catherine’s case.

In general, cure rates are higher when cancer is found at an early stage. That’s why cancer specialists emphasize the importance of preventative screening designed to detect cancers early or before cancer symptoms are noticeable.

Are cancers common for people of Catherine’s age?

The Princess of Wales is 42.

Cancer is a disease of aging because the longer a cell has existed, the more opportunities the genes in a dividing cell have to change or mutate.

More recently, researchers around the world have documented an increase in cancers in those under 50. These are considered early-onset cancers.

A 2023 BMJ analysis suggested that the early onset of 29 different cancers had risen by almost 80 per cent globally between 1990 and 2019. The number of early-onset cancer deaths increased by almost 28 per cent.

In the US, a study published in JAMA Network Open also concluded a wide range of cancers among American adults under 50 had increased between 2010 and 2019, particularly among women.

Why cancers seem to be on the rise in those under 50 is not known. Cancer researchers are exploring several ideas, including changes in diet, a more sedentary lifestyle and other environmental factors.

“All of these things have been studied to some extent, but there’s no clear answer,” said Christopher Booth, a medical oncologist at Kingston General Hospital in Kingston, Ont.

Booth said oncologists in Canada are also increasingly seeing cancer in younger adults as well.

“It remains a disease that’s still highly treatable if caught at an appropriate time.”

Ian Bookman, a gastroenterologist in Toronto, said the research “doesn’t mean every young person needs to run out and start getting cancer screening.”

How extensive is Catherine’s cancer?

Since we don’t know what stage the cancer was that was discovered during Catherine’s surgery, we can’t say how extensive it might have been.

Cancer cells grows uncontrollably and can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.

Benign tumors don’t spread.

Cancer cells act differently than healthy cells. specifically, they:

  • Don’t die off like other cells.
  • Grow more quickly than other cells.
  • Bypass the immune system’s defenses, which work to keep abnormal or invading cells in check.

Catherine did say in her video statement that she has told her three children that she is well and “getting stronger every day by focusing on the things that will help me heal in my mind, body and spirit.”