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

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

Researchers analyzed 3,640,229 patients in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results 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.

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, and
  • prostate cancer was 20% higher.

"We wanted to see what the impact of one of life's most stressful events is on patients," says Mohamed Rahouma, MD, a postdoctoral cardiothoracic research fellow at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York 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, Asians 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 three 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," Rahouma says. "This represents a lost opportunity to help patients with a devastating diagnosis."

Source: American Thoracic Society