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Suicide risk increases ‘significantly’ following cancer diagnosis

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The risk of suicide increases significantly in the first year following a diagnosis of cancer, warn researchers, who also highlight that the rise varies by the type of cancer diagnosed.

The findings point to the importance of screening for suicide risk in newly diagnosed patients and ensuring that patients have access to social and emotional support, according to the researchers.

“Family members and caregivers must be trained to provide psychological support for their ill relatives”

Ahmad Alfaar

The study, in the American Cancer Society’s journal Cancer, looked at a large database – the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) – of US cancer patients between 2000 and 2014.

Among the 4,671,989 patients involved in the analysis, 1,585 committed suicide within one year of their diagnosis, said the researchers.

There was a two and a half times higher risk than what would be expected in the general population, they said.

When studied according to cancer site, the highest increase in risk was seen following pancreatic cancer and lung cancer.

The risk of suicide also increased significantly following a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, but the risk of suicidal death did not increase significantly following breast and prostate cancer diagnoses.

The study involved researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the US, the Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany, and Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt.

Lead author Anas Saad, from Ain Shams University, said: “This is the largest study to assess recent trends in suicide risk after a cancer diagnosis in the US population.

Fellow author Dr Ahmad Alfaar said: “Awareness among providers to screen for suicide risk and refer to mental health services is important for mitigating such risk and saving lives, especially within the first six months after diagnosis.

“Moreover, family members and caregivers must be trained to provide psychological support for their ill relatives,” he said.

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