Washington: Findings of a recent study suggest that cancer diagnosis significantly increases the risk of suicide.
The study, which appears in the journal CANCER, points to the importance of screening for suicide risk in newly
diagnosed patients and ensuring that patients have access to social and emotional support.
To estimate the risk of suicide within the year after a cancer diagnosis, a team, led by co-senior authors Hesham Hamoda, and Ahmad Alfaar, examined information on all cancer patients in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database between 2000 and 2014.
Among the 4,671,989 patients in the analysis, 1,585 committed suicide within one year of their diagnosis. There was a two and a half times higher risk than what would be expected in the general population.
“Awareness among providers to screen for suicide risk and refer to mental health services is important for mitigating such risk and saving lives, especially within the first six months after diagnosis,” said Dr. Alfaar.
“Moreover, family members and caregivers must be trained to provide psychological support for their ill relatives.”
When studied according to cancer site, the highest increase in risk was seen following pancreatic cancer and lung cancer. The risk of suicide also increased significantly following a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, but the risk of suicidal death did not increase significantly following breast and prostate cancer diagnoses.
“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 cancer itself, but rather because of the stress of dealing with it, culminating in suicide,” said Dr. Hamoda.
“This finding challenges us all to ensure that psychosocial support services are integrated early in cancer care.”