ATS 2017: Among All Cancers, Lung Cancer Appears to Put Patients at Greatest Suicide Risk

Key Points

  • The suicide rate in patients with lung cancer was 420% higher compared to the general population.
  • Among lung cancer patients, Asian patients have a more than 13-fold and men a nearly 9-fold increase in suicides.
  • Other factors that increased suicide risk were being older, being widowed, refusing surgical treatment, and having a difficult-to-treat (metastatic) type of lung cancer.

A lung cancer diagnosis appears to put patients at the greatest risk of suicide when compared to the most common types of non-skin cancers, according to new research presented at the 2017 American Thoracic Society International Conference (Abstract 8321).

Researchers analyzed 3,640,229 patients in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database and looked at suicide deaths for all cancers and for lung, prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers individually. Over a 40-year period, cancer diagnoses were associated with 6,661 suicides.

Major Findings

The study found that, compared to the general population, the suicide rate in patients with:

  • any kind of cancer was 60% higher
  • lung cancer was 420% higher
  • colorectal cancer was 40% higher
  • breast cancer was 20% higher
  • prostate cancer was 20% higher

“We wanted to see what the impact of one of life’s most stressful events is on patients,” said Mohamed Rahouma, MD, a postdoctoral cardiothoracic research fellow at Weill Cornell Medical College/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. “I think it’s fair to say that most clinicians don’t think about suicide risk in cancer patients. This study, I hope, will change that by making us more aware of those at greatest risk of suicide so that this catastrophe in the care of our patients doesn’t happen.” 

Among lung cancer patients, Asian patients have a more than 13-fold and men a nearly 9-fold increase in suicides. Other factors that increased suicide risk were being older, being widowed, refusing surgical treatment, and having a difficult-to-treat (metastatic) type of lung cancer.

The authors noted that over the 40-year study period, suicide rates decreased, most notably for lung cancer when compared to the other 3 most common cancers.

“While cancer diagnosis counseling is an established practice, especially if a patient seems depressed, referral for ongoing psychological support and counseling typically does not happen,” Dr. Rahouma said. “This represents a lost opportunity to help patients with a devastating diagnosis.”

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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