Everything we know about King Charles' cancer, from diagnosis to treatment

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King Charles III has resumed his public duties amid his cancer diagnosis.

In fact, his schedule is so busy that he will not be able to see his son Prince Harry during his travels to the U.K. the second week in May for the Invictus Games, an event the Duke of Sussex co-founded that honors wounded service people and veterans.

“It unfortunately will not be possible due to His Majesty’s full programme,” a spokesperson for the duke said. “The Duke of course is understanding of his father’s diary of commitments and various other priorities and hopes to see him soon.”

Charles had a scheduled meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on May 8, just 3 miles from where Harry's appearance for the 10th anniversary of the games at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Harry briefly met with his father in February after his cancer diagnosis was announced.

The king made his first public appearance since his cancer diagnosis on April 30, when he visited a cancer hospital in London with his wife, Queen Camilla. There, Charles met with medical specialists and patients as the new patron of Cancer Research U.K.

King Charles III and Queen Camilla (Suzanne Plunkett / Getty Images)
King Charles III and Queen Camilla (Suzanne Plunkett / Getty Images)

King Charles' cancer diagnosis

Buckingham Palace announced in a statement on Feb. 5, 2024, that Charles had been diagnosed with an unspecified form of cancer.

During a treatment to address a benign enlarged prostate condition the month prior, doctors found something else. “A separate issue of concern was noted,” officials said.

Further diagnostic tests revealed that Charles has “a form of cancer.” In the months since the announcement, no further statements from the palace have confirmed any additional details about his condition or the type of cancer the king has, 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 Feb. 5 statement read.

The cancer was “caught early,” 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.”

While Charles had to step back from some of his public-facing duties, he had a meeting with Sunak on Feb. 21, during which the king commented on the support he'd been receiving during this time.

“Wonderful to see you looking so well,” the prime minister told the king. “It’s all done by mirrors,” Charles joked in a clip of the meeting captured by the BBC.

“We're all behind you, the country is behind you,” Sunak added.

“I've had so many wonderful messages and cards,” Charles shared, “which reduced me to tears most of the time.”

The two went on to discuss how the news of Charles' diagnosis has shone a light on charities dedicated to cancer treatment and awareness, many of which the king said he's supported for years.

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.

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 read. “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 read. “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. He returned to his public-facing royal duties in late April.

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 from Feb. 5 read.

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, King Charles has resumed his public-facing royal duties since his cancer diagnosis. His first public appearance was on April 30 to a U.K. cancer hospital.

In Buckingham Palace's initial statement announcing Charles’ diagnosis, the palace wrote that while the king would 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.”

On April 26, Buckingham Palace announced in a statement that Charles would "shortly return" to public-facing duties amid his ongoing treatment.

A spokesperson for the palace added that Charles’ doctors were “sufficiently pleased” with the progress he has made during treatment, which would continue for an indeterminate amount of time.

Charles’ future engagements will remain subject to doctors’ advice and “adapted” as necessary to minimize risks to his continued recovery, said the spokesperson, noting that the king is not expected to participate in a full summer schedule of royal duties.

The palace’s announcement about Charles returning to his public duties was accompanied by a new image of him and Camilla shot by photographer Millie Pilkington in Buckingham Palace Gardens on April 10.

How is King Charles doing now?

King Charles is doing well enough to have his May 2024 schedule packed with royal duties. His first public appearance since his cancer diagnosis was on April 30.

A few days before, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson addressed Charles’ return to public duties and said it is “too early to say” for how much longer his treatment will continue, “but His Majesty’s medical team are very encouraged by the progress made so far and remain positive about The King’s continued recovery.”

The spokesperson also said: “His Majesty is greatly encouraged to be resuming some public-facing duties and very grateful to his medical team for their continued care and expertise.”

The palace’s official statement concluded by saying Charles and Camilla “remain deeply grateful for the many kindnesses and good wishes they have received from around the world throughout the joys and challenges of the past year.”

Portrait of King Charles III and Queen Camilla (Millie Pilkington / Buckingham Palace/PA Wire)
Portrait of King Charles III and Queen Camilla (Millie Pilkington / Buckingham Palace/PA Wire)

The palace also released a new photo of Charles and Camilla, taken in Buckingham Palace Gardens on April 10.

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."

This article was originally published on TODAY.com