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Suicide risk higher in people with cancer, US study finds

Risk of suicide in people with cancer is higher than general population, research finds

Risk of suicide in people with cancer is higher than general population, research finds

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Following on from the recent UK study which found cancer patients have a 20% increased risk of suicide, especially those associated with a worse prognosis (Public Health England 2018), this American study has also found that people in the US who have cancer are similarly at increased risk of taking their own life.

While the trend overall has seen a decrease in people committing suicide, the actual rate associated with a diagnosis and experience of cancer was nearly twice that of the general population.  

Researchers conducted a retrospective analysis of information from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database covering between 1973 and 2013. Of the 3,640,229 patients diagnosed with cancer, 6,661 committed suicide.

Differing cancers

A diagnosis of lung cancer was associated with the highest risk of suicide. Of this specific patient population, the suicide standardised mortality rate was higher in men, patients over the age of 70, people who have been widowed, patients with aggressive or metastatic disease and people who declined surgical interventions.

The average time to suicide was also earlier in people with lung cancer; it is seven months compared with 37 months in colorectal cancer, 52 months in breast cancer and 56 months in prostate cancer.

The authors suggest that feelings of guilt relating to their diagnosis, lack of support and misunderstandings of the disease and treatment could be contributory factors in a person’s decision to commit suicide, even when the prognosis may be favourable.

They suggest that early identification, assessment and management of this risk is essential.

Rahouma M et al (2018) Lung cancer patients have the highest malignancy associated suicide rate in the USA: a population-based analysis. Ecancer medical science. doi: 10.3332/ecancer.2018.859


Public Health England (2018) Cancer patients at increased risk of suicide

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