How is King Charles' cancer treatment? Doctors and royal family weigh in

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Buckingham Palace officials revealed that King Charles III has been diagnosed with cancer.

Last month, the king, 75, underwent treatment for a benign prostate condition. During this recent procedure, a “separate issue of concern was noted,” royal officials said in a Feb. 5, 2024, statement.

Further diagnostic tests revealed that Charles has “a form of cancer.” Officials have not revealed other details about the specific type of cancer, but they have shared that it’s not prostate cancer.

“His Majesty has today commenced a schedule of regular treatments, during which time he has been advised by doctors to postpone public-facing duties,” the statement reads. “Throughout this period, His Majesty will continue to undertake State business and official paperwork as usual.”

The cancer was “caught early,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said during a BBC radio interview, per NBC News. “And now everyone will be wishing that he gets the treatment that he needs and makes a full recovery,” he added.

King Charles’ prostate treatment

Back on Jan. 17, 2024, Buckingham Palace announced that Charles would be undergoing “a corrective procedure” to treat a benign enlarged prostate. The treatment was to be followed by a “short period of recuperation.”

He entered London Clinic private hospital and received the procedure there on Jan. 26. He was discharged from the hospital on Jan. 29.

A benign enlarged prostate is a common condition that often comes with aging, Dr. Otis Brawley, professor of oncology and associate director of outreach and engagement at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, tells TODAY.com.

Also called benign prostatic hyperplasia, the condition “exists in almost every man over the age of 50,” Brawley explains, and it can put uncomfortable pressure on the bladder, blocking the flow of urine.

It typically involves an area known as the zone of transition, which is “the part that’s around the urethra where the urine comes out,” Dr. Justin R. Gregg, urologic oncologist and assistant professor of urology and health disparities research at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells TODAY.com.

“If you think about the prostate like a donut, and we urinate through the hole in the donut,” Brawley says, “just as you bake a donut and the donut gets bigger, the hole in the center gets smaller.” Similarly, as the prostate enlarges, it makes it more difficult to urinate and for the bladder to completely empty.

For instance, men with enlarged prostates often describe needing to wake up to pee in the middle of the night, Brawley says.

The treatments for benign prostatic hyperplasia include medications, which typically need to be taken for months, Brawley says, or surgery. Some of these medications work by relaxing the muscles of the prostate while others can actually shrink the prostate over time, Gregg adds.

Of the surgical options available, the most common one is the transurethral resection of the prostate. This procedure “involves sticking a drill up the urethra to the level of the prostate,” Brawley explains, and using the drill to essentially “whittle out a larger hole for the person to urinate.”

Buckingham Palace did not disclose the specific procedure that Charles received.

Does King Charles have cancer?

Yes. In a Feb. 5, 2024 statement, Buckingham Palace confirmed that Charles has cancer.

“During The King’s recent hospital procedure for benign prostate enlargement, a separate issue of concern was noted,” the statement reads. “Subsequent diagnostic tests have identified a form of cancer.”

What kind of cancer does King Charles have?

Buckingham Palace did not disclose the specific type of cancer that King Charles has (beyond stating that he does not have prostate cancer).

“The King is grateful to his medical team for their swift intervention, which was made possible thanks to his recent hospital procedure,” the official statement reads. “He remains wholly positive about his treatment and looks forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible.”

He began outpatient treatment for the cancer on Monday, Feb. 5, palace officials added.

What kind of cancer might be discovered by enlarged prostate treatment?

The monarch’s diagnosis appears to be what experts call an incidental diagnosis, meaning the medical team was not looking for cancer but discovered it during another procedure.

“This can definitely happen,” NBC medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula said on TODAY on Feb. 6. “Any time you go in for any sort of surgical procedure, you have pre-op testing. That involves labs, urinalysis and usually a chest X-ray. In that case, you might find something.”

During some procedures to relieve the pressure of an enlarged prostate, doctors may analyze the tissue that’s removed, Gregg explains. That can sometimes lead to an incidental diagnosis of prostate cancer. However, a palace spokesperson clarified that Charles does not have prostate cancer.

Patients typically receive routine imaging during treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia that can reveal other unrelated issues, Brawley says. A CT scan or MRI of the pelvis or abdominal region can show signs of kidney or bladder cancer, for instance.

“Now, we have CAT scans and MRIs that are so good that many times we pick up incidental things,” Narula said. “And then, in certain procedures, you’re using scopes.”

The scope used during the prostate surgery may also reveal signs of bladder cancer. “If you go past the (prostate), you get into the bladder,” Brawley says, “and that’s where you might see a bladder problem, which frequently look like cauliflower growing into the bladder.”

While kidney cancer doesn’t usually come with noticeable symptoms in its early stages, Brawley explains, people with bladder cancer may exhibit symptoms that overlap with those of benign prostatic hyperplasia.

“Some bladder cancers can cause urine-related symptoms of urgency or frequency,” Gregg agrees.

More rarely, doctors may see signs of colorectal cancer during these routine steps of treatment for an enlarged prostate, Brawley says. Or there’s always a chance that other conditions, such as lymphoma, might be diagnosed via a chest X-ray for a completely unrelated issue, he adds.

None of these cancers are directly related to or caused by an enlarged prostate, Brawley explains.

While it’s difficult to know exactly what condition King Charles may be dealing with right now, “when you find things early, that’s the best thing when it comes to cancer because we have treatments available,” Narula said, and the earlier you get diagnosed, the better chance those treatments have to be effective.

“His Majesty has chosen to share his diagnosis to prevent speculation and in the hope it may assist public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer,” the Buckingham Palace statement reads.

Gregg also hopes it serves as an important reminder that anyone experiencing bladder symptoms should speak to their doctor, and to keep regular cancer screening, including screening for prostate cancer, in mind as they get older.

Will King Charles continue royal duties?

Yes, while the king has had to step back from a few planned engagements, he’s been able to take on some work from the palace.

In Buckingham Palace's initial statement announcing Charles’ diagnosis, the palace wrote that while the king will have to step back from public-facing duties during treatment, “throughout this period, His Majesty will continue to undertake State business and official paperwork as usual.”

When he couldn't attend a Commonwealth Day gathering on March 11, he released a video statement from the Palace. "In recent weeks, I have been most deeply touched by your wonderfully kind and thoughtful good wishes for my health and, in return, can only continue to serve you, to the best of my ability, throughout the Commonwealth," he said in the address.

On March 21, 2024, during a visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland, Queen Camila commented on the king's absence from the trip he was originally scheduled to attend. When a shopkeeper offered her a card to pass on to the king, Camila said, “He’s doing very well,” Hello! reported. “He was very disappointed he couldn’t come.”

A few days later, on March 31, King Charles III attended Easter Sunday service at the chapel in Windsor Castle. Although attending church services and holidays are technically private family events rather than royal duties, his appearance at the service was his first major event since his cancer diagnosis in February.

He was accompanied by Queen Camilla and other members of the royal family at the St. George’s Chapel for the annual holy event.

However, Charles’ son, Prince William, and his daughter-in-law Kate, the Princess of Wales, were not in attendance following her own cancer discovery and that she was undergoing “a course of preventative chemotherapy” on the advice of her medical team.

How is King Charles doing now?

At a benefit for the Elephant Family charity on March 21, Princess Eugenie, King Charles' niece, gave an update on the monarch's health.

“He’s doing well,” Eugenie said in clip shared by ITV news. “Thank you for asking. He’s doing well, and he’d also be very proud today because the Elephant Family is very close to his heart too."

A source at Kensington Palace told NBC News that the king has also made time to be with Princess Catherine of Wales who revealed she was undergoing treatment for cancer on March 22. Before the former Kate Middleton filmed her video address revealing the news of her treatment, she and Charles had lunch.

When news of Kate’s treatment broke, in a statement from the Palace, Charles said he was “so proud of Catherine for her courage in speaking as she did.”

“I think for her and for the king that the outpouring of support for both of them, and well-wishes for the both of them to recover quickly, has been hugely heartening,” Charles’ nephew, Peter Phillips, told Sky News Australia on March 24.

“This new experience for them both will really cement what has long been a very affectionate bond between the king and his beloved daughter-in-law,” Hello magazine royal editor Emily Nash said during a TODAY segment on March 25.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com