When King Charles was diagnosed with a benign enlarged prostate he made the choice to share his diagnosis publicly in order to raise awareness and encourage other men experiencing symptoms to get checked. His decision was not unprecedented in that members of the royal family have previously announced details of medical treatment; such as Camilla’s 2007 hysterectomy, Prince Philip’s 2018 hip replacement and Queen Elizabeth’s 2003 knee operations. However, many were surprised because it is not always the case that such information is shared; such as with Kate Middleton’s recent surgery and Prince Philip’s 2013 abdominal operation.
However, having set the precedent for a recent stance of openness as far as the King’s health goes, Buckingham Palace found themselves faced with a very different set of circumstances when he was later told that he has a form of cancer. Even as the sovereign and Head of State, there is no requirement that details are made public, so it was always going to be up to Charles to decide what he wanted to share with this new information. Given his absence from public life, it would have been impossible to say nothing, but as shown above there is plenty of precedent for saying very little.
In the end, the King decided to be transparent about the fact he has cancer but not to disclose what kind (other than clarifying it is not prostate cancer). “His Majesty has chosen to share his diagnosis to prevent speculation and in the hope it may assist public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer,” the Palace said in a statement. A spokesman added, “The King has elected to make his diagnosis public once the schedule of treatment had begun, noting that as Prince of Wales he was patron of a number of cancer-related charities.” A spokesman also said that he is “wholly positive about his treatment,” which will now be out-patient treatment in London.
However, in guidance to journalists, the Palace has also strongly emphasized the King’s right to and expectation of privacy when it comes to further details of his diagnosis. They have asked media outlets to refrain from speculation or investigation into what kind of cancer the King has or the treatment he is receiving. Given this clear stance, and the fact that it would be surprising if it was not respected by serious media outlets, it seems unlikely that this information will shared in any form.
While people may be confused about openness on the one hand and lack of transparency on the other, it is important to remember once again that there is precedent for both. The balance that Buckingham Palace is currently striking means that awareness is created around cancer rather than a particular form of cancer being zeroed in on in reporting. The lack of detail on the type of cancer also provides a greater preservation of the King’s privacy.
It is possible that in the future that King Charles will decide to share more details. But for now the Palace has made it clear that there will not be regular updates or further information at this stage.
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