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Cancer-related suicides in U.S. dropped during last two decades, study finds

Even as shooting- and drug-linked deaths and suicides have risen during the last two decades, suicides among people with cancer have consistently decreased. File Photo by Photographee.eu/Shutterstock
Even as shooting- and drug-linked deaths and suicides have risen during the last two decades, suicides among people with cancer have consistently decreased. File Photo by Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Suicide rates among people with cancer declined by nearly 3% per year over the past 20 years, even as the suicide rate in the United States increased, a study published Tuesday by JNCI: The Journal of the National Cancer Institute found.

Of the nearly 740,000 deaths by suicide recorded in the United States between 1999 and 2018, just under 1% listed cancer as a contributing cause, the data showed.

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Cancer was listed as a contributing cause in nearly 500 suicides in 1999, compared with fewer than 300 in 2018, researchers from the American Cancer Society said.

Over the same period, the overall suicide rate in the United States increased by nearly 2%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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"Advances in supportive care and policies ensuring equitable access to increased psycho-social care, and palliative and hospice care services are essential in delivering high-quality cancer care to maximize patients and families' quality of life," the researchers wrote.

Improvements in treatment and the resulting greater likelihood of survival likely also contributed to the reduction in suicides, they said.

For this study, researchers led by ACS epidemiologist and health services researcher Xuesong Han calculated average annual percentage change in suicide rates classified by risk factors including age, sex, place of residence and cancer type.

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Of cancer-related suicides, just over 18% involved people with lung cancer, while 15% were men with prostate cancer, the data showed. Just over 9% involved people with colorectal cancer.

The largest declines in cancer-related suicide rates were seen among those who were older, male, living in urban areas and with prostate or lung cancer, the researchers said.

Although the shooting and opioid epidemics emerged as major public health concerns during the two-decade study period -- and overall suicide rates attributed to firearms and drugs increased -- cancer-related suicide with firearms did not increase, they said.

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In addition, cancer-related suicides with drugs remained low, according to the researchers.

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