Suicide Risk after Cancer Diagnosis in England

March 22, 2019

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

Receiving a cancer diagnosis may be associated with a 20 percent increased risk of suicide death. Suicide risk is highest during the first six months following a cancer diagnosis, and among patients with a less favorable prognosis.

Researchers identified adult patients diagnosed with a malignant tumor between 1995 and 2015 using England’s National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service. They also pulled data from the Office for National Statistics on suicide and undetermined deaths among those patients diagnosed with cancer. The researchers then calculated standardized mortality ratios to determine whether the number of suicide deaths was greater than expected, and absolute excess risks to determine excess suicide risk per 10,000 person years compared to the general population.

Patients with certain hard-to-treat cancers—like mesothelioma and pancreatic, esophageal, lung, or stomach cancer—were found to have elevated suicide risk. Suicide risk was highest in the first six months after a cancer diagnosis and remained elevated for three years. Suicide risk was also highest among those diagnosed with stage IV cancer.

Clinicians treating cancer patients should be particularly vigilant for suicide risk in the first six months after diagnosis. Additional psychological support and suicide risk screenings may be indicated for those with a poorer prognosis.

Henson, K. E., Brock, R., Charnock, J., Wickramasinghe, B., Will, O., & Pitman, A. (2019). Risk of suicide after cancer diagnosis in England. JAMA Psychiatry, 76(1), 51–60.