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Cancer patients 20% more likely to die by suicide, warns new research

Cancer patients are at a significantly higher risk of dying by suicide, with the first six months after diagnosis being the worst period, according to new research.

The study presented at Public Health England’s Cancer Services, Data and Outcomes Conference revealed that cancer patients have a 20% increased risk of suicide compared to the general population.

Researchers from University College London used data from the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service to identify nearly five million cancer patients aged between 18 and 99 years at the time of their diagnosis, between 1995 to 2015.

They then followed these patients until 2017 and found 2,491 of the cancer patients had their cause of death recorded as suicide or an open verdict.

After comparing this with the general population, the researchers concluded that people with cancer were 20% more likely to die by suicide.

Cancers with poorer prognoses were also associated with a higher risk, such as mesothelioma, pancreatic, oesophageal, lung and stomach cancers.

The team explained that although the reasons behind the increased risk are not fully understood, they could include fear of pain or treatment side-effects.

The researchers wrote: ‘Our findings suggest a need for improved psychological support for all patients with cancer, and attention to modifiable risk factors, particularly in specific cancer groups.’

PHE’s cancer lead Dr Jem Rashbass said: ‘Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be devastating, which is why it’s so important for every patient and their carers to get the support they need. This study shows how critical the first six months are to quality of life and reducing the risk of suicide.

‘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.’

Macmillan Cancer Support’s head of policy Andrew Kaye added: ‘Empowering people with cancer to have difficult conversations about how they are feeling and providing vital support are critical to avoiding potentially preventable deaths.'

Last year MPs said that GPs should receive more training in detecting patients at risk of suicide and those suffering with depression.

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