Cancer diagnosis raises suicide risk


“Although cancer survival rates have greatly improved in recent decades, a diagnosis with certain types of cancer can still be upsetting enough to increase a patient’s risk of suicide,” an article from Reuters reported on Jan. 24th 2019.

The researchers of a U.S. study examined data on more than 4.6 million cancer patients. Among these patients, 1,585 people died by suicide within one year of their diagnosis. This was a suicide rate about 2.5 times higher than what would be expected in the general population.

In the study, the suicide risk was highest in the second month after diagnosis, when cancer patients were almost five times more likely to die by suicide than people in the general population. When cancer patients were diagnosed with advanced tumors that had already spread through the body, their suicide risk was close to six times that of other people.

Suicide risk remained higher over the first six months after diagnosis, when cancer patients were more than three times as likely to die by suicide as people in the general population, the study found. From six to 12 months after diagnosis, cancer patients were still almost twice as likely to die by suicide as other people.

The type of tumor also made a difference. People with pancreatic cancer, for example, were eight times more likely to die by suicide than other the general population, and people with lung cancer had six times the suicide risk. Breast cancer and prostate cancer, however, didn’t appear to make a meaningful difference in suicide risk.

The study also found that most patients who died by suicide were male, white and between 64 and 84 when they were diagnosed with cancer. Among younger patients in the study, cancer appeared to make a bigger difference in suicide risk for men than for women. Among elderly cancer patients, the opposite was true, with women experiencing greater increases in suicide risk than men. Divorced patients also showed bigger increases in suicide risk than people who were married, single, widowed or separated.

“The findings of this study are important for patients and families because they highlight the psychological problems that can affect people with cancer from quite early on in the disease, particularly for certain tumor types,” said Dr. Alexandra Pitman, a researcher at University College London in the UK.

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Wei Li