Suicide Risk Rises After Cancer Diagnosis

It’s no secret that cancer can be absolutely devastating. While some patients seem to hit the jackpot and walk away with a clean bill of health after their body responds flawlessly to treatment (those people exist right?), often there’s a great deal of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety that floods a cancer patient’s life, regarding their health, survival, relationships, body image, bills, side effects… the list goes on.

And even if someone beats cancer, there’s always the chance — and fear — of recurrence.

Cancer often goes hand in hand with depression and anxiety, and for good reason. It can also lead to an significant increase in suicide risk, according to a study published in Cancer, the American Cancer Society’s peer-reviewed journal.

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In the U.S., suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for the general population. However, cancer patients have more than double the risk — two and a half times as much.

The research team, led by co-senior authors Dr. Hesham Hamoda of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Ahmad Alfaar of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, culled data from 2000 to 2014 from a large database called the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER). This accounted for a little over a quarter of patients with cancer in the U.S (roughly 28%).

They found that 1,585 people out of the 4,671,989 patients they looked at committed suicide within one year of their diagnosis.

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This leap in risk happens during the first year following a cancer diagnosis. But interestingly enough, the location and type of cancer you have also impacts risk.

Pancreatic cancer and lung cancer came with the highest risk of suicide. Colorectal cancer came with a high risk as well, though not as high as the other two.

However, suicide risk didn’t rise significantly after breast cancer and prostate cancer diagnoses.

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It is crucial that loved ones and medical professionals are aware of this increased risk, and that patients are given resources to help them get through their depression or anxiety.

“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. Ahmed Alfaar. “Moreover, family members and caregivers must be trained to provide psychological support for their ill relatives.”

If you or a loved one are facing a cancer diagnosis, please reach out to a medical professional if you need help. You can find a list of resources here.

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