The King’s cancer diagnosis will have come as a terrible shock to many, but sadly the statistics show that men – and those over the age of 75, as the King now is – are more likely to develop cancer than others.

The most heartening aspect is that the disease has apparently been caught early, and early diagnosis equates with the best possibility of cure.

It appears that the diagnosis was made possible thanks to his recent hospital procedure – treatment for an enlarged prostate – although we are told that he does not have prostate cancer. 

While we might think this was a stroke of good luck, it is not unusual to discover an unrelated condition when a patient is hospitalised for planned surgery.

The most heartening aspect is that the disease has apparently been caught early, and early diagnosis equates with the best possibility of cure. Pictured, King Charles leaves the London Clinic

The most heartening aspect is that the disease has apparently been caught early, and early diagnosis equates with the best possibility of cure. Pictured, King Charles leaves the London Clinic

Many of my patients found it was reassuring to know that their GP was present when they were undergoing an operation and I was happy to oblige. Pictured, Dr Martin Scurr

Many of my patients found it was reassuring to know that their GP was present when they were undergoing an operation and I was happy to oblige. Pictured, Dr Martin Scurr

Most commonly this is the result of a general physical examination carried out as part of prehospital assessment, an essential task to ensure that the patient is fit for a general anaesthetic. 

Such assessments may include a chest X-ray, particularly in patients who may be considered an anaesthetic risk, either because of their age or because they have additional risk factors such as a history of smoking, asthma, or other cardiac or respiratory problems.

More than once in my experience, a blood test as simple as a preoperative full blood count has, for example, revealed a more serious illness prior to surgery for a completely unrelated condition.

It’s a nasty shock when this occurs but in every case I can recall those patients were cured – and the coincidence of the diagnosis made immediately prior to an unrelated operation was gratifyingly what saved their lives.

Physical examination may also reveal, for example, a skin lesion, such as the malignant melanoma that was spotted in the Duchess of York when she underwent reconstructive breast surgery following a mastectomy.

I once spotted an enlarged lymph node in a patient when he was due to be anaesthetised for abdominal surgery – removal of his gallbladder. 

More than once in my experience, a blood test as simple as a preoperative full blood count has, for example, revealed a more serious illness prior to surgery for a completely unrelated condition (stock image)

More than once in my experience, a blood test as simple as a preoperative full blood count has, for example, revealed a more serious illness prior to surgery for a completely unrelated condition (stock image)

What determines the aggression of cancer is not only where it originates, but also the general physical resilience of the individual affected (stock image)

What determines the aggression of cancer is not only where it originates, but also the general physical resilience of the individual affected (stock image)

Although I was a GP, I was acting as a surgical assistant – many of my patients found it was reassuring to know that their GP was present when they were undergoing an operation and I was happy to oblige. 

I arranged for a biopsy of the lymph node and a day or two later the patient was found to have a lymphoma for which he subsequently underwent treatment – and has remained cured to this day.

The Royal Family has some experience of cancer. Not least George VI, grandfather of our current King, who underwent removal of his cancerous lung in Buckingham Palace by a surgical team from Westminster Hospital – my father was one of the two anaesthetists.

Some years later the Queen Mother underwent surgery to remove part of her colon and was cured of bowel cancer.

What this reflects is that cancer is common, rather than a family trend in this case. And it’s becoming more common: there was a time when medical students were taught that cancer will ultimately affect one person in five. In the current era, with better diagnosis and effective treatment, and sadly, rising risk factors such as obesity, the incidence of cancer is now said to be one in three.

But be reassured, survival figures, particularly with earlier diagnosis, are better than ever, whatever the origin of the cancer.

What determines the aggression of cancer is not only where it originates, but also the general physical resilience of the individual affected. 

This is why His Majesty, slim, energetic and with a well-known approach both to exercise and a healthy diet is in the best position to recover from whatever now assails him.

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