Cancer patients may be at a significantly increased risk of suicide in the first year following diagnosis, a study has found. The research, published 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, researchers from Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the US examined information on cancer patients in a US database between 2000 and 2014.
"This is the largest study to assess recent trends in suicide risk after a cancer diagnosis in the US population," said Anas Saad, of Ain Shams University in Egypt. 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 Ahmad Alfaar, of Charite - Universitatsmedizin Berlin in Germany.
"Moreover, family members and caregivers must be trained to provide psychological support for their ill relatives," said Alfaar. 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 the cancer itself, but rather because of the stress of dealing with it, culminating in suicide," said Hamoda.
"This finding challenges us all to ensure that psychosocial support services are integrated early in cancer care," he said.