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Lung cancer diagnosis increases risk of suicide fourfold

Patients diagnosed with cancer have a greater risk of suicide than the general population, and the risk is highest in those with lung cancer, according to a study[1] presented at the American Thoracic Society 2017 International Conference in Washington on 23 May 2017.

Researchers in New York used the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database to access data on 3,640,229 patients diagnosed with cancer in the United States between 1973 and 2013 to identify cancer-associated suicide deaths. Over the 40-year period, there were 6,661 suicides, meaning that the suicide rate among people with a cancer diagnosis was 27.5/100,000 person-years, which is 60% higher than that for the US general population (13/100,000 person-years).

Rates were far higher for some cancers. Patients with lung cancer had the highest suicide rate — 420% higher than the general population. The suicide rate for patients with breast or colorectal cancer was 40% higher than the general population, and suicide rates were 20% higher in patients with prostate cancer.

Among lung cancer patients, suicide rates were particularly high in Asians (more than 13-fold higher) and men (nearly 9-fold higher). Other factors linked to increased suicide risk in lung cancer were being older, being widowed, refusing surgical treatment and having a difficult-to-treat (metastatic) type of lung cancer.

The median time to suicide after diagnosis was 7 months in lung cancer, 56 months in prostate cancer, 52 months in breast cancer and 37 months in colorectal cancer.

Researcher Mohamed Rahouma, a post-doctoral cardiothoracic research fellow at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York Presbyterian Hospital, said: “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.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202863

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  • doctor explaining lung x-ray to patient

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