Cancer patients ‘have 20% increased risk of suicide’

Fear of pain and side-effects could be to blame

Cancer patients in England are at increased risk of suicide compared to the general population, figures from Public Health England (PHE) show.

The national study found cancer patients have a 20% increased risk of suicide, with the highest risk seen within the first six months of diagnosis.

Cancers with poorer prognoses are associated with the highest risk, including mesothelioma, pancreatic cancer, oesophageal cancer, lung cancer and stomach cancer.

The PHE said the reasons for the higher risk may include fear of pain or treatment side-effects.

The study, in collaboration with University College London, looked at adults diagnosed with malignant cancer over a 20-year period from PHE’s National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS), compared with mortality data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It identified 2,491 cancer patients whose cause of death was recorded as suicide or an open verdict.

Dr Jem Rashbass, cancer lead at the PHE, said receiving a cancer diagnosis can be devastating, which is why it is so important for every patient and their carers to get the support they need.

“Health professionals play a vital role in offering emotional support to cancer patients at this most difficult time. It is important that they recognise the signs of depression, especially when their patients may often have many other physical needs,” he added.

Andrew Kaye, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said mental health should be taken just as seriously as physical health when looking at a patient’s holistic needs.