What is 'preventative chemotherapy'?

the princess of wales opens evelina london's new children's day surgery unit
What is preventative chemotherapy?WPA Pool - Getty Images

The Princess of Wales revealed in a personal video yesterday that she is undergoing “preventative chemotherapy” after doctors diagnosed her with cancer following abdominal surgery in January. But what exactly is preventative chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy in general is a "treatment where medicine is used to kill cancer cells," the NHS explains on its website. There are many different types of chemotherapy medicine, "but they all work in a similar way". The treatment aims to stop cancer cells reproducing, which prevents them from growing and spreading in the body.

Preventative chemotherapy is not a term that's used by the NHS, but is otherwise known as 'adjuvant chemotherapy' in the UK. This is used to "reduce the risk of the cancer coming back after radiotherapy or surgery".

It can also be referred to as 'chemoprevention' internationally. The National Cancer Institute describes this as “the use of certain drugs or other substances to help lower a person’s risk of developing cancer or keep it from coming back”.

Chemotherapy can be administered in different ways, the most common being intravenous (given directly into a vein via a tube, usually in a hospital environment), or oral (in tablet form, which can be taken at home). The treatment also has side effects; as well as killing cancer cells, chemotherapy can also damage healthy cells in your body, such as blood cells, skin cells and cells in the stomach. According to the NHS, this can cause a range of symptoms, including tiredness, feeling and being sick, and hair loss.

what is preventative chemotherapy
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Kensington Palace has not disclosed what kind of cancer the princess has, and she did not elucidate in her video. A palace insider told Bazaar that she began chemotherapy about a month ago. “The princess is now on a recovery pathway, having commenced a course of preventative chemotherapy in late February,” they said.

Of her current health status, the source added: “The princess will return to official duties when she is cleared to do so by her medical team. She is in good spirits and is focused on making a full recovery.”

In the personal video statement, Kate revealed her diagnosis and described the "incredibly tough couple of months" that she's experienced.

"I’ve had a fantastic medical team who have taken great care of me, for which I am so grateful," she said. "The surgery was successful. However, tests after the operation found cancer had been present. My medical team therefore advised that I should undergo a course of preventative chemotherapy and I am now in the early stages of that treatment.

"This of course came as a huge shock, and William and I have been doing everything we can to process and manage this privately for the sake of our young family. As you can imagine, this has taken time. It has taken me time to recover from major surgery in order to start my treatment. But, most importantly, it has taken us time to explain everything to George, Charlotte and Louis in a way that is appropriate for them, and to reassure them that I am going to be OK."

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