January 19, 2019 - 11:53 AMT
Cancer diagnosis may quadruple suicide risk: study

The risk of suicide is more than four times higher among Americans with cancer than those without the disease, a new study finds, Health24 reports.

"Even though cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, most cancer patients do not die from cancer, the patients usually die of another cause," said researcher Nicholas Zaorsky, a radiation oncologist in the Penn State Cancer Institute.

"There are multiple competing risks for death, and one of them is suicide. Distress and depression can arise from cancer diagnosis, treatment, financial stress and other causes. Ultimately, distress and depression may lead to suicide. Our goal was to quantify the risk of suicide among cancer patients," Zaorsky said in a Penn State news release.

The suicide risk among cancer patients was highest for white males; people diagnosed at a younger age; and those with lung, head and neck, testicular cancer, and lymphomas. But the study did not prove that a cancer diagnosis actually caused suicide risk to rise.

The findings come from an analysis of data on 8.6 million US cancer patients diagnosed with invasive cancer – which is cancer that's spread from its original location into surrounding tissue – between 1973 and 2014.

The investigators found that 0.15% of the patients died by suicide, a rate more than four times higher than in the general population.

While the risk of suicide among most cancer patients fell within five years after diagnosis, the risk remained high for those with Hodgkin lymphoma and testicular cancer, the findings showed.

The study, published 14 January in Nature Communications, shows the need for a comprehensive approach to cancer care, according to the researchers.