Kate Middleton reveals cancer diagnosis and is undergoing treatment. What is preventative chemotherapy?

The Princess of Wales said it's been an "incredibly tough" time for her family.

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Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge seen visiting the Foundling Museum at the Brunswick Square in London. (Photo by Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, revealed on Friday she has been diagnosed with cancer. (Photo by Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton, has been diagnosed with a form of cancer after her "major abdominal surgery" in January. In a Friday afternoon video to the public, the royal, 42, shared she's in early stages of preventative chemotherapy and is "well."

It was the first time the royal opened up about her diagnosis, after weeks of speculation about her health following the Duchess's planned surgery.

"At the time, it was thought that my condition was non-cancerous," Middleton said in the video. "The surgery was successful, however tests after the operation found cancer had been present.

Although it hasn't been revealed what type of cancer Kate Middleton has, she gave fans a glimpse into her treatment plan. "My medical team therefore advised that I should undergo a course of preventative chemotherapy and I'm now in the early stages of that treatment," she explained.

The Princess admitted it's been "an incredibly tough couple of months" for her and the royal family, and they ask for privacy as she continues her recovery. However, she assured the public she is "well and getting stronger every day."

Unlike traditional chemotherapy, which is used to treat existing cancer, preventative chemotherapy aims to prevent the development or recurrence of cancer in individuals at high risk. Here's what you need to know.

What is preventative chemotherapy?

Preventative chemotherapy — better known as chemoprevention or a type of adjuvant therapy— refers to the use of medications, vitamins and supplements to prevent the onset of cancer, particularly in people with a higher risk due to genetic, lifestyle or health history factors.

This approach is multifaceted, according to Oncolink, and can be used as:

  • Primary prevention to avert cancer in healthy individuals

  • Secondary prevention to stop precancerous conditions from escalating

  • Tertiary prevention aimed at preventing new cancers in those who have previously been diagnosed

The Mayo Clinic added preventative chemotherapy can come in the form of pills or an IV and uses drugs to kill off cancer cells before they multiply. It's most beneficial for breast and colon cancer, the Mayo Clinic added.

When is preventative chemotherapy recommended?

Saline Drip Hanging On Metal Hook Against Wall In Hospital
Saline Drip Hanging On Metal Hook Against Wall In Hospital

This form of chemotherapy is not universally applicable, but is considered in specific contexts where the risk of cancer (or recurrence) is considerable.

According to Cancer.net, chemoprevention is particularly relevant for people with a significant risk of developing cancer, such as those with inherited cancer syndromes or a personal or family history of cancer. It's also a strategy for those who have already battled cancer, aiming to reduce the likelihood of recurrence or the emergence of new cancers.

Chemopreventive drugs, which are distinct from those used to treat active cancer, may include agents like tamoxifen and raloxifene, known for their efficacy in reducing the risk of certain breast cancers. Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are also recognized for their potential to lower the risk of various cancer types.

OncoLink emphasized the importance of chemoprevention's use based on individual risk factors and the need for agents that are safe, affordable and effective in cancer prevention. The effectiveness and suitability of chemoprevention can vary significantly — meaning it's crucial to have personalized medical advice and consideration of potential side effects versus benefits.

Is chemoprevention used in Canada?

In Canada, chemoprevention strategies are common with breast cancer. The use of Selective Estrogen-Receptor Modulators (SERMs) like tamoxifen are pivotal in breast cancer treatment and prevention, particularly for women at high risk or those with BRCA2 gene mutations. While tamoxifen reduces breast cancer risk, it can increase uterine cancer risk.

Canadian healthcare emphasizes informed discussions between patients and doctors regarding the nuanced benefits and risks of SERMs, aligning with findings from the Canadian Medical Association Journal on cancer prevention strategies.

For more information on preventative chemotherapy and cancer care, organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society offer resources and guidance.

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