Depression and Suicidal Ideation in Patients With Cancer

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As reported in JCO Oncology Practice by Omar Abdel-Rahman, MD, of the Cross Cancer Institute, University of Alberta, a study using U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data indicated that patients with cancer were not more likely to have depressive disorders—but were more likely to have suicidal ideation—compared with propensity score–matched survey participants without cancer.

Study Details

The study evaluated NHANES data from 2005 to 2016. Depression and suicidal ideation were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire-9. Of a total of 32,178 survey respondents, 3,043 had cancer. Propensity score matching was performed to derive a cohort of 3,043 matched respondents without cancer; factors included in propensity score matching included age, sex, race, level of education, marital status, self-reported health status, ratio of family income to poverty threshold, and insurance status.


  • Patients with cancer were not more likely to have depressive disorders.
  • Patients with cancer were more likely to have suicidal ideation.

Key Findings

On multivariate analysis, cancer diagnosis was not associated with greater probability of depressive disorders vs no cancer diagnosis (odds ratio [OR] = 0.937, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.819–1.073). Factors associated with increased likelihood of depressive disorders were older age, female sex, white vs black race, unmarried status, poor self-reported health status, and lower income.

On multivariate analysis, cancer diagnosis was associated with significantly greater likelihood of suicidal ideation (OR for no cancer diagnosis vs cancer diagnosis = 0.695, 95% CI = 0.517–0.935). Additional factors associated with increased likelihood of suicidal ideation were unmarried status and poor health status.

Dr. Abdel-Rahman concluded: “Cancer diagnosis is associated with a higher probability of suicidal ideation. Screening for suicidal ideation should be part of the assessment of patients with cancer.”

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study author, visit

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®.