The Lynx Group

Cancer Diagnosis Increases Suicide Risk or CV Death in the First Few Weeks

May 2012, Vol 3, No 3

Patients receiving a diagnosis of cancer are at increased risk for suicide and other adverse health effects that are triggered by the trauma associated with such a diagnosis, according to results of a recent study (Fang F, et al. N Engl J Med. 2012;366:1310-1318).

It has previously been shown that receiving a diagnosis of cancer is associated with a high level of psychological stress, but that has often been attributed to the stress associated with the treatment itself or to the burden of living with cancer.

Now researchers in Sweden investigated the association between a cancer diagnosis and the risk for suicide or death from cardiovascular (CV) causes immediately after the cancer diagnosis.

The study included >6 million persons aged ≥30 years between January 1991 and December 2006. Participants were followed for the entire study duration or until death, whichever came first. Compared with cancer-free persons, those who received a cancer diagnosis had a 12.6 relative risk of suicide during the first week of diagnosis and a 3.1 risk during the first year.

The relative risk for CV death was 5.6 during the first week after cancer diagnosis and 3.3 during the first 4 weeks.

The increase in risk of suicide in the first few weeks after diagnosis dropped significantly during the balance of the first year after diagnosis. The increase in suicide risk was most prominent for patients with a cancer associated with a poor prognosis.

These findings, the investigators write, “suggest that a cancer diagnosis constitutes a major stressor, one that immediately affects the risk of critical, fatal outcomes.”

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