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Two Retrospective Studies Find Increased Risk of Suicide Among Patients Diagnosed With Cancer

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Key Points

  • Two retrospective studies of SEER data identified increased risk of death by suicide among patients with cancer.
  • One study showed a rate of 0.2% within the first year of cancer diagnosis.

In a news item reported in The Lancet Oncology, The Lancet journalist Manjulika Das reviewed two U.S. retrospective studies indicating that patients diagnosed with cancer are at increased risk of suicide.

High Standardized Mortality Ratio

In one study, published by Zaorsky et al in Nature Communications, evaluation of data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program from 1973 to 2014 indicated that death by suicide occurred for 13,311 (0.1%) of 8,651,569 patients diagnosed with cancer. The findings showed a suicide rate of 28.58/100,000-person years and a standardized mortality ratio (SMR) for suicide of 4.44 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 4.33–4.55). Most patients dying from suicide were male (83%), white (92%), and diagnosed with lung, head and neck, or testicular or bladder cancer or Hodgkin’s lymphoma (SMR > 5). As related by first author, Nicholas Zaorsky, MD, “Even though cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, most patients [with cancer] do not die from cancer.”

Increased Risk Within First Year of Diagnosis

In another study, published by Saad et al in Cancer, evaluation of SEER data on 4,671,989 patients diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2014 found that 1,005,825 patients died within the first year of cancer diagnosis, including 1,585 (0.2%) who died by suicide. The excess risk for suicide per 10,000 person-years was 2.51, indicating increased risk of suicide among patients with cancer compared vs the general population within the first year of cancer diagnosis. Suicide risk in the first year after diagnosis was increased among patients with pancreatic, lung, and colorectal cancer, but not among those with breast or prostate cancers. As related by Hesham Hamoda, MD, MPH, a co-author of the study, “The most important take-home message is that clinicians should be aware of the significant increase in suicide risk and that the risk peaks early on (second month after diagnosis carrying).”

Disclosures: The study authors’ full disclosures can be found at thelancet.com, nature.com, and onlinelibrary.wiley.com.  

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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