Cancer patients have a 55% greater risk of suicide than people without the potentially deadly disease, according to preliminary research findings.
Previous research has found suicide rates to be higher than in the general population but a paper being presented at this week’s European Congress of Psychiatry in Florence, Italy is an attempt to quantify the size of the increased risk.
Co-author Dr Raffaella Calati from the department of emergency psychiatry and post-acute care at Lapeyronie hospital, Montpellier, described the results, derived by pooling data from 15 studies, as “extremely preliminary” but nevertheless significant.
“The key message that remains is that in the majority of the studies there is an increased risk,” she said. “We are quite sure the risk would be higher, although I cannot say the exact number.”
The analysis, which also looked at suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts, included studies published between 1983 and 2015 from Australia, Canada, China, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, the UK and the US.
Patients with cancer were found to have a 55% higher suicide rate compared with people without the disease. But the analysis revealed no increased risk of suicide attempts ( 8,147,762 participants) or suicidal thoughts (42,700 participants) in patients with cancer.
The authors are currently seeking to add more studies into the mix and, in their initial analysis, did not seek to rule out other external factors that might influence the results, hence their emphasis on it being preliminary.
They say: “The assessment of suicide risk in patients with cancer is crucial. We suggest there is a need in cancer patients to be screened and cared not only for anxiety and depression, but also specifically for those people with suicidal thoughts and a lifetime history of suicide attempts, in particular during the period immediately subsequent to the diagnosis of cancer.”
A 2014 study by Cancer Research UK and the Scottish government found that three-quarters of cancer patients who also have clinical depression were not receiving any treatment for depression.
As the analysis is ongoing, it has not yet been submitted to a medical journal for publication but to be accepted for the European Congress of Psychiatry it had to undergo a peer review process set out by the European Psychiatric Association.
- In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here