Kate Middleton Is Undergoing Preventative Chemotherapy — Here’s What That Means

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 14: Catherine Duchess of Cambridge looks on after the Men's Singles final between Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Roger Federer of Switzerland during Day thirteen of The Championships - Wimbledon 2019 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Andy Cheung/Getty Images)

Kate Middleton’s health and whereabouts have been the topic of societal discussion (read: tasteless gossip) for months since it was announced that she’d be pausing her royal duties after an abdominal surgery in late January. The speculation has since come to an end after the princess herself spoke up in a video on March 22, revealing a cancer diagnosis and detailing her recent health journey.

In the video, Middleton didn’t go into detail about the type of cancer she was diagnosed with, or the stage. But she did disclose that that she’s currently in the “early stages” of preventative chemotherapy.

While many people are familiar with chemotherapy as a drug treatment for cancer, preventive chemotherapy is less widely understood. PS spoke with three oncologists, who helped break down exactly what the treatment is, what its benefits are, and what side effects it can cause.

What Is Preventive Chemotherapy?

Preventive chemotherapy is the use of chemotherapy drugs to reduce the risk of cancer coming back in the future, although it’s worth noting that board-certified oncologists in the US don’t typically use the term. “We use the term neoadjuvant chemotherapy (chemo given before surgery) or adjuvant
chemotherapy (chemo given after surgery),” Madhu Shetti, MD, radiation oncologist and founder of Balmere, a skin-care line for cancer thrivers, tells PS.

The type of cancer being treated and its stage will affect which drugs are used, and for how long. Dr. Shetti says that adjuvant therapy can last as little as a few weeks for a short course of intravenous chemotherapy to years, like in the case of certain oral tablets for breast cancer.

“The benefit of adjuvant chemotherapy can last for many years, reducing the risk of recurrence or improving chances of survival,” adds Monique Gary, MD, breast surgical oncologist and medical director of the Grand View Health cancer program.

When is Preventive Chemotherapy Used?

Preventive chemotherapy is used in several different instances, Dr. Gary tells PS. It could be used if biomarker testing indicates that the cancer has a high risk of recurrence, for instance, or if the lymph nodes are involved, which indicates the cancer may have spread. “Once surgery has been performed and a tumor has been removed, it will be tested to determine if it has a high potential for recurrence or spread. These are some of the main factors used to determine if chemotherapy would be beneficial after cancer has been removed,” Dr. Gary says.

Ultimately, preventive chemotherapy is meant to lower the likelihood of cancer recurring down the road. “We often give preventative chemotherapy for several kinds of cancer to try to eradicate microscopic cells that cannot be seen on scans but can grow if left untreated,” says Marleen Meyers, MD, medical oncologist, and director of the cancer survivorship program at NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center. Even if a cancer is surgically removed, if it’s believed to have a high risk of recurrence, this type of chemo may be used. “This may be done in breast, ovarian, and colon cancer, among others,” Dr. Meyers says.

What Are the Side Effects of Preventive Chemotherapy?

Anyone who has been touched by cancer (either through a diagnosis of your own or that of loved one) knows how difficult and grueling treatments like chemotherapy can be. Dr. Shetti says the side effects of adjuvant therapy are similar to those of standard chemo. Patients may experience hair and nail loss, memory difficulty or “chemo brain,” bone and muscle pain, hormone dysregulation, weight loss, and more.


Alexis Jones is the senior health editor at POPSUGAR. Her areas of expertise include women’s health, mental health, racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare, diversity in wellness, and chronic conditions. Prior to joining POPSUGAR, she was the senior editor at Health magazine. Her other bylines can be found at Women’s Health, Prevention, Marie Claire, and more.


Image Source: Andy Cheung/Getty Images

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