King Charles’ shocking cancer crisis is this week’s PEOPLE cover story. An exclusive extract follows below.
On Feb. 4, the royal family used their social media to highlight World Cancer Day, showing photos of Queen Camilla at a new cancer support center in the U.K. That same morning, King Charles, 75, accompanied by Camilla, 76, attended a morning service at St. Mary Magdalene Church near their country retreat in Sandringham.
The monarch, still recovering from his Jan. 26 operation for a benign enlarged prostate, cheerfully waved to well-wishers, offering no hint of the impending announcement that would shake the world just a day later: Charles has cancer, the palace revealed in a 138-word statement that concluded, “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.”
Although the statement offered few details, the palace did reveal that when Charles underwent his prostate procedure, a separate issue of concern was detected, and “subsequent diagnostic tests have revealed the presence of a form of cancer.” (The type of cancer has not been disclosed in keeping with the palace’s tight-lipped approach to medical conditions, but it is not prostate cancer, a spokesman confirmed.)
“In time we might know,” Robert Hardman, author of The Making of a King: King Charles III and the Modern Monarchy, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue. “but for now, there is a feeling that they have been pretty open.”
The King has begun “regular treatments” and will postpone public duties, the palace statement added, noting that Charles “remains wholly positive about his treatment and looks forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible.”
Those close to the family were taken aback by the announcement. “I was really shocked when I heard it,” says a palace insider.
Adds a source who knows him, “He has not looked himself. I put it down to grief—he’d had two deaths close together [his mother, Queen Elizabeth, in Sept. 2022 and his father, Prince Philip in April 2021]—but maybe he wasn’t well, without realizing so. It would take it out of him.”
The news comes just nine months into Charles’s reign and only 17 months after the death of Queen Elizabeth at age 96.
It also marks a particularly difficult start to the new year for the royal family: on Jan. 16, Princess Kate, 42, underwent a 13-day hospitalization for abdominal surgery—prompting Prince William’s temporary withdrawal from public duty to care for Kate and the couple’s three children, Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5.
The potential for increased responsibilities for his son and heir, William, 41, once again highlighted the royal family’s thinned ranks since the departure of Charles’s younger son Prince Harry, 39, and the removal of Charles’s scandal-plagued brother Prince Andrew, 63.
Says a palace insider: “He will want to get on with the job. But that will depend on what treatment he is having. It may be utterly draining on him. He will need a lot of support.”
For more on this story, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.