Cancer-Related Suicides Have Declined in the United States

By Reuters Staff

January 26, 2021

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The past 20 years has seen a decline in cancer-related suicides in the United States, despite a steady increase in overall suicide rates, according to new data from the American Cancer Society.

Among 738,743 suicides recorded in the U.S. between 1999 and 2018, 6,487 (0.9%) had cancer as a contributing cause, report ACS researcher Dr. Xuesong Han and colleagues in JNCI: The Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Among the cancer-related suicides, lung cancer (18%), prostate cancer (15%) and colorectal cancer (9%) were the most common contributing causes.

In a trends analysis, they found that cancer-related suicides declined by 2.8% per year during the study period, while overall suicides increased by 1.7% per year, a statistically significant difference.

The largest declines in cancer-related suicide rates were seen in men, older adults, those living in urban areas and those with prostate, lung and head/neck cancers.

"Although no causal relationship can be established, our findings suggest an evolving role of psycho-oncology care and palliative and hospice care given the promotion and increased utilization of these services among cancer patients during this period," the authors say.

They also note that while the gun and opioid epidemics emerged as major public-health concerns during the study period, cancer-related suicide by firearms did not increase, and cancer-related suicides with drugs remained low.

"In contrast, overall suicide with firearm and drugs increased, suggesting distinct impacts of these epidemics and different risk profiles of suicide for cancer patients compared with the general population," they say.

"Future research with longitudinal data is warranted to directly evaluate impacts of relevant practices and policies on cancer-related suicide and further identify higher-risk populations including pediatric cancer survivors, racial and ethnic minorities, and those without access to palliative and/or hospice care," the study team concludes.

SOURCE: JNCI: The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, online January 19, 2021.