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Kate Middleton said she's having preventive chemotherapy — here's what that could mean

Kate, the Princess of Wales, in a black outfit.
Catherine "Kate" Middleton, the Princess of Wales.Samir Hussein/WireImage via Getty Images
  • Kate Middleton was diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing "preventative chemotherapy."

  • Oncologists have said that could mean a few different things.

  • One possibility is she's receiving adjuvant chemotherapy to "mop up" any remaining cancer cells.

Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales, said she was diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing "preventive chemotherapy," which could refer to a treatment to prevent cancer from reoccurring after surgery.

The 42-year-old announced the diagnosis on Friday in a short video message on Instagram, following weeks of public speculation about her whereabouts and well-being. Kensington Palace had previously said that she had undergone a planned abdominal surgery for a condition believed to be "noncancerous." Kate said in her statement that subsequent testing found that cancerous cells were present.

Kate said in her recent statement that she is now in the early stages of a course of "preventive chemotherapy" at the recommendation of her medical team. She did not disclose the type of cancer she was diagnosed with.

Doctors specializing in cancer treatment have said it's not clear what the statement means by "preventive chemotherapy."

It could mean that Kate is receiving an ongoing treatment commonly known as "adjuvant chemotherapy" to get rid of any remaining cancer cells after an operation.

"For some types of cancers, chemotherapy can be given after to act to 'mop up' if there are any cancer cells left. The value of this varies between cancer types, and even the size and place of the same cancer type," Bob Phillips, a professor of pediatric oncology at the University of York, said.

It could also refer to chemoprevention, a range of medications and supplements that can stop cancerous cells from developing, according to the cancer-education site OncoLink. The specific substances used in the treatment depend on the type of cancer and the patient.

Cancer occurs when cells begin to grow uncontrollably, forming a tumor. Doctors may use chemoprevention on people with a high risk of cancer or those who have previously had cancer to interrupt this process.

Chemoprevention is different from chemotherapy, which doctors use to destroy cancer cells that have already developed, according to the National Institute of Health.

The typical length of time for treatment can vary widely depending on the type of cancer, Phillips said.

Side effects and recovery times also vary depending on the type of drugs used, though it can take months before a person is back to full strength, he said.

"'Chemo' is a word used to describe a huge variety of medicines used to treat cancer. There are a number of families of chemo and chemo-like drugs which all have their own varied schedules and side effects," Phillips said.

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