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King Charles III's cancer diagnosis: What we know about the British monarch's medical history

Britain's King Charles III attends a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Wednesday, September 20, 2023.
Britain's King Charles III attends a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Wednesday, September 20, 2023. Copyright Yoan Valat/AP
Copyright Yoan Valat/AP
By Associated Press
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The announcement of the British king's cancer diagnosis has shocked many in the UK. Here's what we know about Charles III's health history.

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The announcement on Monday that King Charles III has been diagnosed with cancer came as a shock to many in Britain, largely because the 75-year-old monarch has generally enjoyed good health through the years.

Palace officials did not specify what kind of cancer the King has, or how serious his condition is. They only said that it was discovered during the King's recent hospital treatment for an enlarged prostate, but isn't prostate cancer.

Charles has started a schedule of regular treatments and will postpone public-facing duties, officials said.

Here is a look at Charles' health history, from contracting COVID-19 to a series of injuries sustained from playing polo and hunting over the decades.

Prostate treatment

Charles was discharged from a private London hospital a week ago after undergoing treatment for an enlarged prostate.

Officials said the condition was benign, though the King cancelled engagements and was urged to rest before the procedure.

An enlarged prostate is common in men over age 50 and affects thousands in the UK. The condition affects how one urinates and isn’t usually a serious health threat. It’s not cancer and doesn’t lead to an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

Palace officials said the King publicised details about his condition to encourage other men to have their prostates checked in line with public health advice.

COVID

Charles had COVID-19 twice, but officials said that he only suffered mild symptoms both times.

The first time was in March 2020, when he isolated himself at home in Scotland. Those were the early days of the pandemic in the UK and vaccines weren't available yet. 

He remained in good health, though he lost his sense of taste and smell for a time. Charles later spoke of the "strange, frustrating, and often distressing" experience of being away from friends and family during lockdown.

Charles contracted the coronavirus a second time in February 2022. He had been triple-vaccinated at the time.

Sports injuries

Charles was a keen polo player and suffered an array of injuries over years of sports and exercise.

In 1980 he was thrown and kicked by his pony during a polo match at Windsor and needed six stitches on his cheek.

In the 1990s he underwent several operations after he broke his right arm in a fall during a polo match and injured his left knee during another game.

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In 2001 he was knocked unconscious and taken to the hospital in an ambulance when his horse threw him during a polo match he was playing with his sons Prince William and Prince Harry.

Charles also had various injuries from hunting accidents. He broke a rib when he fell from his horse in 1998, and in 2001 he fractured a small bone in his shoulder after another tumble.

The King retired from playing polo after more than 40 years in 2005.

'Sausage fingers'

There has long been speculation about Charles' swollen "sausage fingers," with some suggesting they may be due to fluid build-up, arthritis, or other conditions.

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Whether the puffy digits are due to a health condition remains unexplained, but Charles has on more than one occasion jokingly referenced them himself.

In a BBC documentary on Charles' coronation, the King was seen reassuring his son Prince William when he struggled to fasten one of the ceremonial robes. He jokingly told William not to worry, because "you haven't got sausage fingers like mine."

Minor treatments

Charles has had other minor medical treatments over the years.

In 2008 he had a non-cancerous growth removed from the bridge of his nose in a minor, routine procedure. 

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He had a hernia operation at a private hospital in 2003, and joked "hernia today, gone tomorrow" to waiting reporters when he was discharged the next day.

Charles, who has a degenerative disc at the base of his spine, has also spoken about his back pain. He is known to travel on royal tours with a cushion, and a velvet cushion is usually placed on his chair during state banquets at Buckingham Palace.

In his memoir 'Spare,' Prince Harry wrote about Charles' exercises at home to keep his "constant" neck and back pain in check.

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