Suicide risk quadruples for cancer patients, study finds

Cancer patients are more than four times more likely to commit suicide than people who do not have cancer, a study published in Nature Communications found.

"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 Nicholas Zaorsky, MD, a radiation oncologist at 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 stressand other causes. Ultimately, distress and depression may lead to suicide. Our goal was to quantify the risk of suicide among cancer patients."

The study, conducted by researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa., includes data on more than 8 million U.S. cancer patients. They compared the suicide risk of cancer patients versus the general public and looked at whether certain cancer patients had a higher risk than other patients.

Among cancer patients, the researchers found white males; patients who were diagnosed at a younger age; and patients with lung, head and neck, testicular cancer and lymphomas were more likely to commit suicide.

The findings could be used to help find patients who may have a higher risk for suicide and help healthcare providers tailor their treatments accordingly, the researchers said.

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