Despite increases in overall suicide rates in the United States during the past 2 decades, cancer-related suicides declined by 2.8% per year in the same time period, according to a new study published by Han et al in JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study found that the largest declines in cancer-related suicide rates between 1999 and 2018 were among high-risk populations, suggesting an evolving role of psycho-oncology and palliative and hospice care for patients with cancer and survivors during this period.
To examine the trends in cancer-related suicides compared to overall suicides in the United States, investigators calculated the average annual percentage change of suicide rates stratified by risk factors including age, sex, urban/rural status, and cancer type.
There was a decreasing trend of cancer-related suicide from 1999–2018, with an average annual percentage change (AAPC) of age-adjusted suicide rates of −2.8% (95% confidence interval [CI] = −3.5% to −2.1%). However, there was an increasing trend of overall suicide rate in the same time period (AAPC = 1.7%, 95% CI = 1.5%–1.8%).
They found that of cancer-related suicides, lung cancer (18.2%), prostate cancer (15.4%), and colorectal cancer (9.1%) were the most common contributing causes. They also found that cancer-related suicide rates had large declines among those who were older, male, living in urban areas, and had prostate or lung cancers.
Although the gun and opioid epidemics emerged as major public health concerns during this time period, and overall suicide rates related to firearms and drugs increased, the authors found that cancer-related suicide with firearms did not increase, and cancer-related suicides with drugs remained low. These results suggest different risk profiles of suicide for patients with cancer compared to the general population.
“Advances in supportive care and policies ensuring equitable access to increased psychosocial care, and palliative and hospice care services, are essential in delivering high-quality cancer care to maximize patients and families’ quality of life,” the authors concluded.
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