Lung cancer patients at highest suicide risk

Paul Basilio, MDLinx | May 26, 2017

New research presented at the American Thoracic Society’s (ATS) 2017 International Conference shows that patients diagnosed with lung cancer are at the highest risk of suicide when compared with all other non-skin cancers.

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The new study aims to raise awareness among physicians about the risk faced by vulnerable patients. Image courtesy of ATS.

Researchers analyzed more than 3.6 million patients in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database for patients who had committed suicide over a 40-year period following a cancer diagnosis. Patients with all cancers, as well those as with lung, prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers individually were included. A total of 6,661 suicides were noted.

Results showed that the suicide rate in patients with any kind of cancer was 60% higher than in the general population. Patients with colorectal cancer had a 40% higher rate, followed by those with breast and prostate cancers (20% higher).

Those who received a diagnosis of lung cancer, however, had a 420% higher suicide rate vs the general population. Among lung cancer patients, Asians have a more than 13-fold and men have a nearly 9-fold increase in suicides. Other factors that increased suicide risk included older age, being widowed, refusing surgical treatment, and having a difficult-to-treat type of lung cancer.

“While cancer diagnosis counselling is an established practice, especially if a patient seems depressed, referral for ongoing psychological support and counseling typically does not happen,” said Mohamed Rahouma, MD, a Post-Doctoral Cardiothoracic Research Fellow at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York Presbyterian Hospital. “This represents a lost opportunity to help patients with a devastating diagnosis.”

The authors noted that over the 40-year study period, suicide rates decreased—most notably for lung cancer—when compared to the other three most common cancers.

“We wanted to see what the impact of one of life’s most stressful events is on patients,” Dr. Rahouma said. “I think it’s fair to say that most clinicians don’t think about suicide risk in cancer patients. This study, I hope, will change that by making us more aware of those at greatest risk of suicide so that this catastrophe in the care of our patients doesn’t happen.”

To read more about this study, click here.

 

 

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