How cancer impacts a patient’s suicide risk

Patients are at a significantly higher risk of suicide in the first year after being diagnosed with cancer, according to a new study published in Cancer. What can healthcare providers do to help mitigate this risk?

The authors explored data from more than 4.6 million patients diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2014 in the United States. Overall, 1,585 patients committed suicide within that first year after diagnosis. Diving deeper into the data, 87 percent of patients who committed suicide were male, and more than 90 percent were white. Fifty-eight percent were 65-84 years old at the time of diagnosis.

The highest increases in risk were found in patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and lung cancer. The risk did not increase significantly for breast and prostate cancer patients.

“Discussing the quality of life after the diagnosis, the effectiveness of therapy, and the prognosis of the disease and maintaining a trusting relationship with health care professionals all decrease the likelihood of suicide immediately after a diagnosis of cancer,” wrote Anas M. Saad, MBBch, of Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt, and colleagues. “The implementation and widespread utilization of support programs for patients with certain cancers (eg, breast cancer) may have contributed to decreased suicide risk as these patients are more aware of their prognosis and receptive to the decreased social stigma and have less stress about the cost of obtaining medical treatment.”

Saad et al. noted that healthcare providers should “be vigilant in screening for suicide and ensuring that patients have access to social and emotional support.”