A Canadian oncologist has urged doctors and other healthcare professionals to be more aware of the potential risk of suicide among cancer patients and to offer extra support to the most vulnerable and their families.
In a study published on line (Thursday 19 October) in Annals of Oncology the author said that while suicide is comparatively rare, his analysis of 1.3 million cancer cases in the United States revealed that 19 out of every 1,000 male cancer patients and four out of every 1,000 female cancer patients took their own lives a total of 1,307 men and 265 women.
At around 24 suicides per 100,000 among cancer patients per year, the rate was between two and two and a half times that of the general American population (10.6 per 100,000 per year, which also includes the cancer population).
The nearly five-fold preponderance of males to female cancer suicides reflects the male-female ratio for suicide in the general population.
The risk of suicide varied according to a number of different factors, including gender, prognosis, the stage of disease, the type of cancer, ethnicity and family situation, according to the study's author Dr Wayne Kendal, a radiation oncologist at the Ottawa Hospital Regional Cancer Centre.
"If we were to draw a composite picture of the patient most at risk, this would be a widowed white male, with a new diagnosis of possibly head and neck cancer or multiple myeloma, with widespread and perhaps high-grade disease or maybe a history of other cancers. By contrast, a patient with decreased risk of suicide would be a woman of African-American heritage, with perhaps colorectal or cervical cancer, and living with her spouse," said Dr Kendal.
Looked at overall, i.e. men and women combined, the cancers involving the highest suicide rates were those of the lung and bronchus, bladder, head and neck, oesophagus and myeloma, with lower rates for those of the breast and liver. However, wh
Contact: Margaret Willson
European Society for Medical Oncology