Oncologist reveals difficult side effects of chemotherapy include tiredness, nausea and hair loss – as Princess of Wales undergoes ‘preventative’ cancer treatment

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A top oncologist has revealed the potential side effects that the Princess of Wales could have to deal with as she undergoes ‘preventative’ chemotherapy for cancer.

Princess Catherine may have to cope with tiredness, nausea and vomiting as she has treatment against the disease, says Dr Matt Williams.

The future Queen, who could also have issues with her body producing enough red and white blood cells increasing her risk of infection.

Dr Williams, who is a consultant at The London Clinic where Kate underwent major abdominal surgery in January, said she may experience some hair loss depending on the drugs she is taking.

It comes days after the mother-of-three shocked the nation by revealing she had been diagnosed with cancer following the operation and is being given drugs to stop it coming back.

The Princess of Wales pictured at the opening of a day surgery unit in London on December 5, 2023

Oncologist Dr Matt Williams told ITV News that Kate can expect side effects of her treatment to include tiredness, nausea and possibly hair loss

Oncologist Dr Matt Williams told ITV News that Kate can expect side effects of her treatment to include tiredness, nausea and possibly hair loss

The world has rallied around the Princess of Wales since she announced the news in a televised address on Friday evening, with well wishes being sent by thousands.

What is preventative chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment which uses powerful drugs to attack the disease, but causes many side effects on the body, including hair loss.

It can be used to treat cancer directly, shrink a tumour in preparation for surgery or to try and stop cancer coming back.

When it is used to prevent the disease coming back, it can also be called adjuvant chemotherapy.

It is most often administered as an IV drip or tablets, and depending on the type of drug, these can be taken at home or in the hospital.

The aim of this is to stop tiny cancerous cells from taking root in the body. 

This works because the drugs are cytotoxic, meaning they are toxic to cells and particularly those that divide rapidly. 

As cancer cells divide more than healthy cells, they are more affected by chemo, hence why it is used as a treatment for the disease.

However, other types of fast-growing cells, such as hair, bone marrow, skin and the lining of the digestive system are also damaged in the process.

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The 42-year-old revealed doctors had discovered an unspecified form of cancer and she is undergoing ‘preventative’ chemotherapy.

Dr Williams told ITV News that the drugs being taken by Kate will have some impact on her quality of life.

‘The side effects of chemotherapy depend slightly on the drugs you have, but typically include tiredness, nausea, maybe vomiting, problems with blood counts and risk of infection,’ he said.

‘Some people will lose their hair but that’s largely dependent exactly on which drugs you’re using.’

Professor Pat Price, an academic clinical oncologist at Imperial College, said side effects like this are to be expected.

She said previously: ‘These treatments can look like either tablets or they’re drugs that are injected. It depends on the type of cancer and they’re either given all the time or intermittently.

‘They can obviously affect the normal cells in your body as well, so you can get some side effects. 

‘Hopefully she’ll be able to manage those and then the chemotherapy will do what it needs to do, and then it will finish and hopefully she will then be fine.’

Also known as adjuvant chemotherapy, the preventative treatment Kate is doing through aims to stop cancer coming back once the main tumour has been removed from the body. 

Cancer can spread to other parts of the body, a process called metastasis, where tiny cancerous cells break off the main tumour and take root elsewhere.

These ‘new’ cancers can be hard to detect so medics specialising in cancer treatment, called oncologists, often advise patients to undergo preventative chemotherapy in a bid to eliminate any remaining traces of the disease.

The Princess of Wales with her children in her Mother's Day portrait, which now has added significance given her diagnosis

The Princess of Wales with her children in her Mother’s Day portrait, which now has added significance given her diagnosis

In a video message released  on Friday, Kate said she was advised by her medical team to undergo a course of preventative chemotherapy

In a video message released  on Friday, Kate said she was advised by her medical team to undergo a course of preventative chemotherapy

Preventative chemotherapy is most often delivered as an IV drip or tablets where they are then carried throughout the body by the bloodstream.

Depending on the type, chemotherapy can be administered in either a hospital or at a patient’s home.

There are over 100 types of chemotherapy drugs, but they all work in a similar way and circulate through the blood.

The drugs are cytotoxic, meaning they are toxic to cells and in particular those that divide rapidly.

As cancer cells divide more than healthy cells, they are more affected by chemo, hence why it is used as a treatment for the disease.

However, other types of fast-growing cells, such as hair, bone marrow, skin and the lining of the digestive system are also damaged in the process.

This leads to some of chemotherapy’s famed side effects, such hair loss or thinning, fatigue, bruising and bleeding more easily, increased risk of infection, diarrhoea or constipation, nausea or vomiting, rashes and more.

Often a patient undergoing chemotherapy also take other medication designed to help mitigate or combat some of these symptoms.

The specific dosage and type of chemotherapy used varies depending on the type of cancer.

The effectiveness of preventative chemotherapy varies considerably from patient-to-patient.

Factors that impact it success include the specific type of cancer, when it was originally treated, the age of the patient and if they have any other health conditions.

The specific type of cancer Kate has has not been revealed.

Even though just one in ten cancer cases are in people under the age of 50, experts are warning of an ‘epidemic’ of the disease among younger people.

More than 375,000 cases of cancer are detected every year in Britain, the equivalent of 1,000 each day, according to Cancer Research UK.

UK figures suggest those aged 25 to 49 contribute to around a tenth (9 per cent) of new cases, with almost twice as many women than men in some age groups.

More than a third (36 per cent) of new cancer cases on average are in people aged 75 and over.

Adults aged 50 to 75, meanwhile, account for more than half (54 per cent) of all new cases.

Cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and bowel make-up the overwhelming majority of new diagnoses, accounting for around half in total.

Dr Shivan Sivakumar, an oncologist at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘There is an epidemic currently of young people getting cancer – under 50s.

‘It is unknown the cause of this.’

Professor Andrew Beggs, a consultant colorectal surgeon based at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘Young onset cancer is by no means rare.

‘I run a clinic for early-onset cancer in adults and we are seeing more and more people in their 40s with cancer.’

Professor Lawrence Young, an expert in molecular oncology based at the University of Warwick, added: ‘Cancer survival is generally higher in younger people.

‘Early diagnosis and better treatments is resulting in improved outcomes, with survival rates doubling in the last 50 years.’

Figures suggest around one in two people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. 

Kate’s cancer battle in her own words: The Princess of Wales’ emotional video statement in full 

I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you, personally, for all the wonderful messages of support and for your understanding whilst I have been recovering from surgery.

It has been an incredibly tough couple of months for our entire family, but I’ve had a fantastic medical team who have taken great care of me, for which I am so grateful.

In January, I underwent major abdominal surgery in London and at the time, it was thought that my condition was non-cancerous. 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.

As I have said to them; I am well and getting stronger every day by focusing on the things that will help me heal; in my mind, body and spirits.

Having William by my side is a great source of comfort and reassurance too. As is the love, support and kindness that has been shown by so many of you. It means so much to us both.

We hope that you will understand that, as a family, we now need some time, space and privacy while I complete my treatment. My work has always brought me a deep sense of joy and I look forward to being back when I am able, but for now I must focus on making a full recovery.

At this time, I am also thinking of all those whose lives have been affected by cancer. For everyone facing this disease, in whatever form, please do not lose faith or hope. You are not alone.

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