People who have been diagnosed with cancer within the last year are 2.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
Both cancer and suicide are leading causes of death in the US. While it is thought to be the case that people with cancer are more likely to commit suicide than the general population, few large population studies have looked at this issue.
New ways of treating cancer have improved quality of life and survival, but a diagnosis affects patients on many levels. As well as the symptoms of the disease and the effects of therapy, individuals also face psychological and social difficulties.
Previous studies have shown that suicide rates may depend on factors such as sex, age, cancer site, time since diagnosis and other demographic and biological factors.
This study, which was published in CANCER, set out to analyze suicide risk in the first 12 months following a cancer diagnosis.
Data on patients diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2014 and included on the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End-Results (SEER) Program, were analyzed.
Researchers looked for those who had committed suicide within the first year of diagnosis and compared the rate to that of the general population.
Of the 4,671,989 people included in the study, 1,585 committed suicide within one year of diagnosis. This equated to a 2.5 times higher risk of suicide than what would be expected in the general population.
This risk increased among those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, who were eight times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, and lung cancer, who were six times more likely.
The risk did not increase significantly after breast and prostate cancer diagnoses.
The results show the importance of close observation and mental health support following a cancer diagnosis, authors suggest.
Dr. Hesham Hamoda, of the Boston Children’s Hospital’s department of psychiatry and co-author of the study, says: “Both cancer and suicide are leading causes of death and present a major public health challenge.”
“Our study highlights the fact that for some patients with cancer, their mortality will not be a direct result of the cancer itself, but rather because of the stress of dealing with it, culminating in suicide. This finding challenges us all to ensure that psychosocial support services are integrated early in cancer care.”1
Dr. Ahmad Alfaar, of Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and fellow co-author, points out that awareness of suicide risk among healthcare providers could save lives.
“Moreover, family members and caregivers must be trained to provide psychological support for their ill relatives,” he adds.1
Saad AM, Gad MM, Al-Husseini MJ, AlKhayat MA, Rachid A, Alfaar AS, Hamoda HM. Suicidal death within a year of a cancer diagnosis: A population-based study. Cancer 2019 [Epub ahead of print].
- (2019) Suicide risk increases significantly following a cancer diagnosis [Press release]. January 7, 2019. Available from: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-01/w-sri010219.php (accessed April 2019).