Suicide Risk Up More Than Fourfold for Cancer Patients

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 16, 2019 — Cancer patients have an increased suicide risk, which is predominant among men and white patients, according to a study published online Jan. 14 in Nature Communications.

Nicholas G. Zaorsky, M.D., from the Penn State Cancer Institute in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and colleagues conducted a retrospective, population-based study using nationally representative data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program from 1973 to 2014. Data were included for 8,651,569 cancer patients.

The researchers found that 13,311 patients committed suicide, for a suicide rate of 28.58/100,000 person-years. The standardized mortality rate (SMR) was 4.44 for suicide. Suicide was predominant among male and white patients (83 and 92 percent, respectively). Through the follow-up period, the highest SMRs were seen for cancers of the lung, head and neck, testes, bladder, and Hodgkin lymphoma (SMRs >5 to 10). The risk was highest for elderly, white, unmarried men with localized disease compared with other cancer patients. The plurality of suicides for patients diagnosed when aged younger than 50 years were among those diagnosed with hematologic and testicular tumors. For patients diagnosed when aged older than 50 years, the plurality of suicides were among those diagnosed with prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers.

“This information could be helpful while developing guidelines and strategies for how and when to screen cancer patients for depression and distress,” Zaorsky said in a statement. “For example, aiming suicide-prevention strategies at older patients and those with certain cancers, such as prostate, lung, leukemias and lymphomas, may be beneficial.”

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Posted: January 2019

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