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  • King Charles III, the 75-year-old King of England, has been diagnosed with cancer.
  • Additional information on the form and stage of the cancer has not been made public.
  • The announcement has highlighted the significance of so-called “incidental findings” during medical procedures.

King Charles III, the patriarch of the British royal family has been diagnosed with a form of cancer.

The revelation comes via an official announcement by the Royal Family on X, formerly known as Twitter. The 75-year-old King Charles will step back from public-facing duties on the recommendation of his doctors, but will continue with other state business.

Doctors discovered the cancer as King Charles underwent a procedure for a benign prostate enlargement. However, the cancer is a “separate issue” from the enlarged prostate, according to the statement. The Royal Family hasn’t indicated what form of cancer was found. Nor have additional details on the stage and prognosis of the cancer been made public yet either.

In an interview with the BBC, British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said that the cancer was “caught early.”

“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 statement said.

The announcement comes one week after Charles was discharged from a London hospital for treatment of an enlarged prostate, according to the BBC.

A cancer diagnosis popping up while undergoing an unrelated medical screening or procedure isn’t uncommon, but there aren’t national statistics on how frequently it occurs.

So-called “incidental findings,” usually refer to benign, unrelated findings that can turn up on screenings and scans, but are not of medical significance.

However, as the case of King Charles illustrates, occasionally serious diseases, like cancer, can also be discovered unintentionally. The King’s public acknowledgment of the incident will likely bring greater attention to the phenomenon of incidental findings, and the importance of cancer screening.

The term “incidentally diagnosed cancer” refers to a cancer diagnosis that occurs in an individual without known cancer symptoms, and outside of regular cancer screening, according to a 2019 article on the subject in the journal BMJ Open.

For example, if an individual went to their doctor to have their lungs examined due to a nagging cough or cold and a tumor was discovered, this would be considered incidentally diagnosed cancer.

The American Cancer Society told Healthline that things like this do happen, but there aren’t any hard statistics for how frequently it occurs.

“Currently in the United States, information on how the cancer was diagnosed (during a routine screening, screening due to symptoms, or during an unrelated medical test) is not recorded on a national level. Thus, we do not know the exact percentage of cancer cases that are diagnosed incidentally each year,” Angela Giaquinto, MSPH, an Associate Scientist II at the American Cancer Society, told Healthline.

There are few studies on the subject either. The BMJ Open article above investigated how frequently cancer was diagnosed among a section of the British population between 2009-2010. The study included nearly 14,000 individuals who were diagnosed with cancer and found that about 4% of the diagnoses were incidental.

They also found that specific forms of cancer were also more likely to be diagnosed incidentally. The most likely was leukemia (23% of cases), followed by renal cancer (13%) and thyroid cancer (12%). The least common incidentally diagnosed cancers were brain cancer (0.9%), esophageal cancer (0.5%), and cervical cancer (no incidental diagnosis).

“One reason a cancer may be incidentally found is because the cancer is slow-growing and may have never progressed to causing symptoms or death,” said Giaquinto.

As medical screening and imaging tools have advanced, so has the frequency of incidental findings, raising ethical concerns among medical practitioners.

King Charles’ case represents one end of the spectrum of incidental findings: finding cancer early on, opening up treatment options, and, likely, improving outcomes.

On the other hand, incidental findings can lead to more tests, doctor visits, unnecessary costs, and anxiety. This has led doctors to question the medical value of incidental findings in the larger scheme of a patient’s health. Some have gone so far as to say that reporting incidental findings may even be harmful to patients.

“A great number of screening tests are now promoted, with the accompanying imperative to act on incidental findings, which may or may not benefit patients, but can harm them. The increasing realization that screening, although potentially beneficial, is not always benign has led to guidelines calling for more restricted use of tests for detecting breast and colon cancer, for instance,” wrote the authors of a 2014 article on the ethics of incidental findings in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Other experts have argued that incidental cancer findings are leading to overdiagnosis in patients.

“Overdiagnosis occurs when a person is diagnosed with cancer that would have never progressed and caused harm in a lifetime if left undetected,” said Giaquinto.

“As medical technology improves, it is likely that incidental cancer cases will increase even as cancer screening improves. Especially as there are only five cancers that are currently detectable by recommended routine screening: breast, lung, prostate, colorectal, and cervical cancer,” she said.

King Charles III, the 75-year-old King of England, has been diagnosed with cancer, according to an official statement from the Royal Family. Additional details are sparse; the specific form of cancer hasn’t been disclosed to the public. However, British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said that the cancer was “caught early.”

The incident highlights the significance of “incidental findings” during medical procedure, which are unintentional findings unrelated to the actual procedure.

With the improvement of medical screening and imaging, “incidental findings” have increased, leading to ethical questions over their potential for benefit and harm for patients.