The King’s cancer diagnosis has taken everyone by surprise, coming just days after his successful treatment for a benign prostate condition.
But the odds are firmly in his favor when it comes to his chances of making a full recovery. He is fit, eats well, drinks little alcohol and, most importantly, his yet to be identified cancer appears to have been caught at a very early stage.
However, at 75, there are some crucial factors that must be taken into account by both the King’s doctors and those who treat the tens of thousands of men and women of a similar age diagnosed with cancer each year.
First, cancer cells can behave very differently in older people (aged 70 and older) than in younger people.
In women, for example, older age is associated with fewer high-grade tumors, the kind that are likely to spread quickly and aggressively and have a much lower chance of surviving.
The odds are firmly in favor of King Charles (pictured leaving hospital today). He is fit, eats well, drinks little alcohol and, most importantly, his yet to be identified cancer appears to have been detected at a very early stage.
His cancer diagnosis has taken everyone by surprise, coming just days after his successful treatment for a benign prostate condition.
It’s not exactly clear why, but some evidence suggests that cancer cells, like healthy cells, can also “get tired” with age. Their entire biochemistry may be different from that of malignant cells found in a younger body and their ability to colonize other organs and tissues is often weakened.
On the other hand, prostate cancer in men older than King Charles’ age tends to be much more aggressive.
For example, the chances of a 75-year-old man surviving the disease are much lower than those of someone between 50 and 60 years old, even if the tumor is detected at an early stage, research suggests.
In fact, cancer in older people is so different that in some quarters it is now considered a medical specialty with its own geriatric oncology.
That’s right. In the past, many older cancer patients on the NHS were given toxic and potentially fatal doses of chemotherapy drugs to try to destroy their tumours, when many (we now know) were in no condition to withstand such an attack.
Fortunately, today the goal is to treat them so that they live a decent quality of life. with your cancer, instead of trying to destroy it at all costs.
On the other side of the coin, the NHS also has an unfortunate history of undertreating some patients in King’s age group, on the basis that they are older and would only see limited benefit from expensive treatments that could be passed on to someone younger. .
But things have changed. Today’s 70-year-old men and women are generally much healthier than those of 20 or 30 years ago and are better able to cope with cancer therapy. What’s more, medications and treatments are much gentler than before and the risk of poisoning from them is much lower.
And this will only get better. In the next decade, we will be able to sample the DNA of tumor cells and then use Artificial Intelligence to accurately predict which drug or treatment each patient will respond best to, choosing the right one the first time and reducing much of the testing time. and error we see in cancer care.
We still don’t know what King Charles’ diagnosis is. One possibility is bladder cancer, which doctors may have detected when they inserted a tube to operate on his prostate and discovered a blockage.
Or it may be that during surgery they noticed cancer in their lymph nodes, small nodules throughout the body that help filter waste products from the blood.
But whatever it is, I’m very optimistic about his prognosis, and I’m also very optimistic about the future prospects of cancer patients diagnosed around his same age.