King Charles: What kind of cancer treatment is available to him - and what impact could it have

Some cancer treatments can last 3 to 6 months or up to weeks in the case of radiotherapy

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Friday 26 April 2024 19:30 BST
(Buckingham Palace/PA Wire)

As the news breaks of King Charles return to public-facing royal duties following his cancer treatment, a palace spokesperson said the King’s medical team were “very encouraged by his progress”.

The assurance comes months after Buckingham Palace announced King Charles had been diagnosed with cancer following surgery for an enlarged prostate.

Last month the palace also revealed the Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton, was undergoing cancer treatment after doctors discovered she had the disease during an abdominal surgery.

The palace has said the King does not have prostate cancer and it is not yet clear what kind of cancer the King is suffering from or what kind of treatment he is having. However, there are three main areas of treatment for cancer patients on the NHS – chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery.

The road to recovery can be difficult and long depending on the cancer and severity of it, with difficult side effects to battle.

What are the stages of cancer which can be diagnosed?

There are different stages of cancer usually numbered from stages 1 to 4:

  • Stage 1- the cancer is small and contained within the organ it which it started
  • Stage 2- the tumour is larger than stage 1 but hasn’t started to spread to the surrounding tissues, however it may have spread to the lymph nodes close to the tumour.
  • Stage 3- the cancer is larger and may have spread into the surrounding tissues and there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes
  • Stage 4 -the cancer has spread from where it started to another body organ. This is also called secondary or metastatic cancer.

Chemotherapy treatment

Chemotherapy treats cancer through the use of drugs that destroy cancer cells and most types of treatment are carried out in the blood. They can be given via a drip into the vein, through tablets, injection into the muscle, injection into the fluid around your spine and brain, directly into a body part, or directly to the skin as a cream if you have skin cancer.

The drugs seek to disrupt the way cancer cells grow and drive but can also damage some of the health cells in your body. These healthy cells can recover however the cancer cells eventually die.

As the drugs affect health cells this can cause side effects which vary depending on the drug. However common side effects include: fatigue, hair loss, mouth and throat sores, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea and vomiting, low blood count and increased risk of infection.

The King seen with the Princess Royal and Camilla last September (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

A course of chemotherapy usually lasts between three to six months although can be more or less. How often a person has a cycle of treatment and the length will depend on the type of cancer, what stage they are at, the type of drugs they are having and if they have side effects they need to recover from.

Radiotherapy treatment

Radiotherapy uses radiation to destroy cancer cells in an area of the body. It can also damage some normal cells in the body.

Radiotherapy can be done in combination with chemotherapy which is called chemoradiation and can be given after surgery for cancer which lowers the risk of it coming back, which his called adjuvant radiotherapy.

It can also be given before surgery to shrink a cancer, make it easier to remove and can also be used to relieve the symptoms of some cancers.

There are two main ways of having radiotherapy depending on where the cancer is:

  • external beam which is given from outside of the body using a radiotherapy machine
  • Internal radiotherapy which is when a radioactive material is placed inside the body

The possible side affect include: tiredness, problems with eating and drinking, feeling or being sick, skin reactions, hair loss, changes in your blood.

If you are given radiotherapy with the aim of curing cancer this course usually lasts between 1 to 7 weeks.

For radiotherapy to relieve cancer symptoms this can be a single treatment to two weeks of treatment or longer.

Surgery to treat cancer

Surgery is used to remove or repair tissue damaged by cancer.

After surgery side effects such as pain or feeling sick can occur. Patients might have a tube to drain their wound and remove any extra fluid.

Recovery time will depend on how big the operation was and the nature of it.

Lifestyle changes during cancer treatment

Certain lifestyle changes can help during cancer treatment and recovery. While some areas of your life could be impacted due to the treatment.

If treatment makes you feel more tired you could be less active than usual and lose some strength in your muscles. Macmillan recommends doing a small amount of physical activity such as a walk.

Eating healthily can aid recovery and give a person more energy. However, some cancer treatments can cause changes in how your bowel works which includes bowel surgery or radiotherapy to the pelvis. Cancer treatment may also cause changes to your weight.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in