Survivors of childhood cancer at higher risk for suicide, study finds

Survivors of childhood cancer at higher risk for suicide, study finds
Researchers say that survivors of childhood cancer have an increased risk for suicide, though the risk remains overall low. File Photo by hikrcn/Shutterstock

Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Long-term survivors of childhood cancer are at higher risk for suicide compared with the general public, a study published Monday by the journal Cancer found.

However, their risk for suicide remains low, the researchers said.


Among nearly 50,000 people in the United States who survived cancer after being diagnosed with the disease during childhood between 1975 and 2016, 79 suicides were recorded, the data showed.

This equates to a rate of about one suicide per 10,000 people annually, about the same as that seen in the general population in the United States, according to the researchers.

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However, the suicide rate among adult survivors of childhood cancer age 28 and older was twice as high, about 2 per 10,000 people annually, though still low, they said.

"Our findings raise crucial questions about what can be done to prevent suicide in vulnerable long-term adult survivors of childhood cancer," study co-author Dr. Justin Barnes said in a press release.

"Such strategies may include improving efforts to screen for distress and better employing survivorship care with a multidisciplinary team," said Barnes, a radiation oncologist at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine.

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Although suicide rates among people with cancer have been declining in recent years, due at least in part to improved prognosis because of more effective treatments, they remain higher in those with more deadly forms of the disease, research suggests.

Still, survivors of childhood cancer face various challenges, such as emotional distress, impaired quality of life and financial burdens related to costs of care, according to Barnes and his colleagues.

For this study, the researchers examined a large population database to evaluate suicide rates among individuals who had childhood cancer in the United States from 1975 through 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available.

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They identified 49,836 childhood cancer survivors and 79 instances of suicide among them, they said.

Additional research is needed to study the underlying reasons and risk factors for suicide among survivors of childhood cancers, the researchers said.

"These might include a history of depression, psychiatric comorbidities, persistent pain, socioeconomic stressors and cancer treatment specifics, all of which we were unable to evaluate in our study," Barnes said.

"A better understanding may be helpful in tailoring interventions to cancer survivors at greatest risk," he said.

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