Young Cancer Survivors May Be More Likely to Commit Suicide

Rates of suicide elevated in cancer survivors diagnosed before the age of 25 years.

Suicide rates increased more than 2-fold in young cancer survivors compared with counterparts who did not have the disease.

The findings, which were published in the International Journal of Cancer, are a result of a national cohort study.

“From our study, it is not possible to say whether there is a connection between the cancer diagnosis and suicide on an individual level, but what we see is an association at population level,” said investigator Maria Winther Gunnes.

The results of the study are based on a linkage between several national registries, including the Norwegian Cause of Death Registry and the Cancer registry of Norway.

Of the 1.2 million individuals born in Norway between 1965 and 1985, there were 5440 patients who received a cancer diagnosis before the age of 25 years. The investigators compared these 2 population groups until 2008.

At follow-up, the data showed a total of 24 cancer survivors who committed suicide.

“Survivors of brain tumors, leukemia, bone and soft tissue sarcomas, and testicular cancer are, in our material, more vulnerable in terms of risk of suicide,” Winther Gunnes said.

When suicide was excluded, there was no increased risk of external causes of death, such as accidental poisoning and traffic accidents.

Although investigators are unable to examine the individual background of this increased suicide risk, Winther Gunnes believes that this could be a result of the total chronic health burden.

Even once treatment is completed, health burden is something many survivors have to deal with for years, often for their entire lives. Furthermore, many of the survivors are unaware of where to go for help, and might not seek help right away, according to the study.

“We do not have any proper follow-up system for adult long time survivors of young age cancer,” Winther Gunnes said.

The authors noted that the absolute risk of cancer survivors committing suicide is low, and a limitation of the study is the low numbers of suicide in total.

“It is, however, important to be aware of these new findings in order to develop appropriate surveillance and intervention strategies as part of a long-term follow-up program of these cancer survivors,” Winther Gunnes said.