Kate Middleton Announces Battle With Cancer: The Side Effects She May Face with Chemotherapy

Melissa Finley
Melissa Finley Contributer

Cancer affects so many in the world. By 2020, an estimated 1.8 million people were suffering. It is difficult to meet anyone who has not, in one way or another, been impacted by the disease. Its reach seems to have no limits, and not even the Princess of Wales is safe from its wrath. After several months out of the public eye, Kate Middleton announced March 22, 2024 that she is battling cancer.

While she did not specify the type, she did mention that she had had abdominal surgery and is undergoing chemotherapy for treatment. Everyone has options when deciding how to battle cancer, depending on its stages and spread and weighing the side effects of these choices can be daunting.

How Does Chemotherapy Work?

The term chemotherapy, or chemo, refers to a wide assortment of drugs that are used to treat cancer. These medications usually work by killing rapidly-dividing cells. 

“Since cancer cells have lost many of the regulatory functions present in normal cells, they will continue to attempt to divide when other cells do not,” says CancerQuest.org. “This trait makes cancer cells susceptible to a wide range of cellular poisons.”

However, because chemo cannot target ONLY cancer cells, the treatment often hurts other quickly-replicating cells, such as hair cells,  in the process.

The loss of healthy fast-growing cells is the cause of many of chemo’s side effects and can weaken your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to infections and disease. Hundreds of different chemo combinations have been developed over the past two decades, each with their own benefits and side effects profile. If one chemo drug is ineffective or causes harmful or intolerable side effects, doctors have many other combinations to try.  

Heart Damage Risks

Patients treated for cancers near the heart, like Hodgkin’s lymphoma or breast cancer, are at risk of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat,) coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure. 

“It’s something that we carefully monitor for,” says Craig Cole, MD, a hematologist and oncologist at Michigan State University.  “We get echocardiograms (EKGs) before we start therapy and afterwards to assure that their heart function is okay.”

Some chemo drugs, including their brand names in parentheses, that may cause heart damage are:

  • trastuzumab (Herceptin, Ogivri)
  • doxorubicin (Adriamycin, Coxil)
  • daunorubicin (Cerbuidine)
  • epirubicin (Ellence)
  • cyclophosphamide (Genoxal, Mitoxan)
  • osimertinib (Tagrisso)

If you’re living with heart failure as a result of chemotherapy, consider downloading MedShadow’s Guide to Eating Out on a Low-Sodium Diet, written by Cindy Tenner, a cancer survivor who has been living with heart failure.

Potential Lung Damage

Like heart problems, lung damage can be a result of chemotherapy or radiation to the chest area. Symptoms include dry coughing and shortness of breath. Your risk may be higher if you already have a lung disease, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or if you received both chemotherapy and radiation. 

Cole adds, “if there’s any hint of there being any lung problems or heart problems, [then] we discontinue that drug and move on to a different therapy.”  

Some chemo drugs, including their brand names in parentheses, that may cause lung damage are:

  •   bleomycin (Blexane)
  •   carmustine (Becenum, BiCNU, Carmubris)
  •   methotrexate (Rasuvo, Otrexup PF, Xatmep)

Additional Side Effects of Chemotherapy

There are a multitude of other side effects, such as neuropathy, “cancer brain,” and hormonal imbalances that can occur with chemo treatments. For more on these long-lasting effects, read The Long Term Side Effects of Chemo here.

Some of MedShadow’s Cancer Therapy Articles

For additional information, visit theses informative MedShadow articles:

Immunotherapy Side Effects Can Impact More Than Your Immune System

Cancer-Treating Drugs—and Other Drugs Too—Can Be Effective at Lower Doses

Does Every Cancer Patient Need Neulasta?

Innovations in Lung Cancer Treatments

Many Cancer Patients Use Complementary Therapies, But Their Docs Don’t Know

DISCLAIMER: MedShadow provides information and resources related to medications, their effects, and potential side effects. However, it is important to note that we are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The content on our site is intended for educational and informational purposes only. Individuals dealing with medical conditions or symptoms should seek guidance from a licensed healthcare professional, such as a physician or pharmacist, who can provide personalized medical advice tailored to their specific circumstances.

While we strive to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information presented on MedShadow, we cannot guarantee its completeness or suitability for any particular individual's medical needs. Therefore, we strongly encourage users to consult with qualified healthcare professionals regarding any health-related concerns or decisions. By accessing and using MedShadow, you acknowledge and agree that the information provided on the site is not a substitute for professional medical advice and that you should always consult with a qualified healthcare provider for any medical concerns.

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