WEDNESDAY, Oct. 30 (HealthDay News) -- A diagnosis of cancer may
put teens and young adults at risk for suicide, a new study
"There is a need to support and carefully monitor this vulnerable population," said lead researcher Donghao Lu, from the department of medical epidemiology and biostatistics at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
The study of Swedes aged 15 to 30 found that those with a cancer
diagnosis had a 60 percent greater risk of suicide or attempted
suicide compared to similar young people without cancer. And the
risk peaked the first year after diagnosis, when it was 150 percent
higher, the researchers found.
"Although the absolute risk of suicidal behavior is small among the young cancer patients, these findings do imply that the young patients suffer from great emotional stress after the diagnosis," Lu said.
All cancer patients, regardless of age, have an elevated risk of
suicide, Lu said. "But because adolescents and young adults are
still developing their coping strategies for stress, they may be
more affected than adults when facing major adversity such as a
cancer diagnosis," he said.
Whether these findings, published Oct. 30 in the
Annals of Oncology, apply to young cancer patients elsewhere
is unclear. "Given the fact that the cancer care practice and
characteristics of suicidal behavior may be different between
Sweden and other countries, it might be a little premature to
extend our findings to other populations," he said.
However, Lu believes there is a need for mental health care for
these young cancer patients, particularly those with pre-existing
psychiatric conditions or with poor prognosis.
"The best support should be delivered through cooperation among different parties, including the medical professionals, psychological professionals, family members, as well as social workers," he said.
Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of
Suicidology, said these findings are not new, "but this is the
first study to document that elevated risk among younger
populations of patients."
What is consistent across all the studies in this area, he said,
is the increased apprehension, distress, fear and/or terror that
comes soon after diagnosis. "Hence the need for significant counsel
and support to help adaptation and recovery," he added.
For the study, Lu's team collected data on nearly 8 million
Swedish males and females who were 15 or older between 1987 and
2009. More than 12,600 were diagnosed with cancer.
During more than 17 years of follow-up on average, almost
106,000 suicides or attempted suicides occurred.
Among cancer patients, 22 killed themselves -- more than the 14
expected based on the general population, the researchers noted.
And 136 cancer patients attempted suicide, which was more than the
80 attempts expected based on the general population. In total,
that's an extra 64 suicides or attempted suicides among the young
cancer patients, the authors concluded.
The risk for suicidal behaviors rose for most cancer diagnoses,
but not for thyroid cancer, testicular cancer or melanoma. This
might be because these cancers have a better prognosis among the
young, the researchers noted.
However, the risk for suicidal behavior was tripled among young
females diagnosed with cervical cancer, which is highly treatable
when caught early. That risk rose nearly sixfold the first year
Although more young people with mental problems attempted
suicide overall, having cancer didn't seem to up the risk for these
It's possible they were undergoing treatment for their mental
problem with antidepressants or counseling that helped prevent
suicidal behavior, the researchers suggested.
Dr. Christine Moutier, medical director of the American
Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said the study shows the need to
assess young people diagnosed with cancer for their suicide
"The good news is that mental health problems, in large part, can be improved with treatment," she said.
According to the study, hanging was the most common method of
suicide, and poisoning was the most frequent form of attempted
For more information on depression and cancer, visit the
American Cancer Society.
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