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Cancer diagnosis increases the risk of suicide

Researchers find that the suicide risk is highest in the first six months of a cancer diagnosis

Researchers find that the suicide risk is highest in the first six months of a cancer diagnosis

A diagnosis of cancer results in a 20% increased risk of suicide compared with the general population, a nationwide population-based study in England has found.


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The risk was found to be highest in the first six months after the diagnosis of cancer, with the greatest risk found overall in people diagnosed with mesothelioma, pancreatic, lung, oesophageal and stomach cancers. Patients with mesothelioma were found to have a fourfold risk compared with the general population. The study reported that male patients were more likely to take their own lives.

Researchers studied longitudinal data on the population of patients diagnosed with cancer from Public Health England’s national cancer registration database and examined all deaths by suicide or those that received an open verdict from the Office for National Statistics. Data from almost five million death certificates were included in the analysis from a 22-year follow-up period (1995-2017).

The sample included 50.3% men and 49.7% women. Most patients (74.3%) were aged 60 years or older. Over the study period, 2,491 patients died by suicide, which corresponded to 0.08% of all recorded causes of death. The researchers note that while this represents a relatively low absolute number of deaths, the higher risk associated with the initial diagnostic and treatment period could indicate an unmet need for the provision of suitable risk assessment and psychological support.

Henson K, Brock R, Charnock J et al (2019) Risk of suicide after a cancer diagnosis in England. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 76, 1, 51-60.

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