Despite increases in overall suicide rates during the past 2 decades, a new study by the American Cancer Society found that cancer-related suicides declined by 2.8% per year.1

Thoughts of suicide following a cancer diagnosis are very common, although relatively few patients attempt or complete suicide according to an article by Cancer Network. Risk factors can include both cancer-related and general suicide risk factors, all of which may interact to create a higher risk. Notably, the article said patients are most willing to attempt suicide within the first year after their diagnosis, and adult survivors of childhood cancers are at particular risk.2

Clinical factors include depression, demoralization, pain, a lack of social support, and the feeling that they are a burden to others. Interventions to reduce suffering, restore connections with others, and maintain safety are essential, and the authors said normalizing conversations about suicidal ideation and suicide itself is important in order to get resources to patients who need them.2

To examine trends in cancer-related suicides compared with overall suicides in the United States, investigators calculated average annual percentage change of suicide rates, analyzed with risk factors that include age, sex, urban and rural status, and cancer type. Of cancer-related suicides, the results showed that lung cancer (18.2%), prostate cancer (15.4%), and colorectal cancer (9.1%) were the most common contributing causes.1

Furthermore, the investigators found that the largest declines in cancer-related suicide rates were among high-risk populations, suggesting an evolving role of psycho-oncology and palliative or hospice care for patients with cancer and survivors during the study period. They also found that cancer-related suicide rates had large declines among patients who were older, male, living in urban areas, and with prostate or lung cancer.1

During the same study period, the study authors noted that the gun and opioid epidemics emerged as major public health concerns, and overall suicide rates with firearms and drugs increased. However, they said cancer-related suicides with firearms did not increase and suicides with drugs remained low. These findings could suggest different risk profiles of suicide for patients with cancer compared with the general population.1

“Advances in supportive care and policies ensuring equitable access to increased psychosocial care, and palliative and hospice care services are essential in delivering high quality cancer care to maximize patients and families’ quality of life,” the authors concluded.1

  1. Cancer-Related Suicide Declined in the US During the Past Two Decades [news release]. American Cancer Society; January 19, 202 Accessed January 20, 202
  2. McFarland D, Walsh L, Napolitano S, et al. Suicide in Patients With Cancer: Identifying the Risk Factors. Cancer Network; June 19, 2019. Accessed January 20, 2021.