The Link Between Cancer Diagnosis and Suicide

Mar 2016

Study shows that the first week and first year after diagnosis have elevated risk

Texas suicide lawyerWhile it’s well-known that people suffering from cancer also face high levels of distress and psychiatric symptoms, some research indicates a specific link between the cancer diagnosis itself and death by suicide.


In one study, researchers reviewed medical records on 14,000 people, 786 of whom had been diagnosed with a type of cancer. The study found that among those with a cancer diagnosis, the overall suicide rate doubled compared to the cancer-free population – with significant increases beyond that in the time immediately following the diagnosis.

According to the study results, the risk of suicide increased by a factor of 12 within the first week after diagnosis. That risk tapered off over time, but remained high, as patients diagnosed with cancer were five times more likely to die by suicide within 12 weeks of the diagnosis and three times more at risk within the first year after diagnosis.

Significantly, the research also found a link between prognosis and suicide risk. Those patients who were diagnosed with more deadly cancers, as well as those who were also suffering from another medical condition, were more likely to die by suicide. That suggests that a feeling of hopelessness was partially to blame for their deaths.

Intervention after diagnosis can prevent suicide

One of the most persistent suicide myths says that when people want to attempt suicide, nothing can be done to stop them.  The reality is that a person’s urge to end his or her own life will pass with time. The study results bear this out, as the suicide risk was observed to be strongest right after diagnosis – when the situation seemed most dire – and tapered off substantially as people went on living after being diagnosed with cancer.

Suicide prevention attorney Skip Simpson knows that compassionate—don’t gloss over the word; it is important—intervention can make all the difference for a suicidal person, even someone suffering from a disease as grave as cancer. Most people who are prevented from dying by suicide recover from their impulses to take their own lives. Even someone who seems hopeless still has the capacity to face cancer with determination and a will to live.

Sadly, too many patients never have that chance. Doctors who specialize in treating cancer rarely have the mental health training or experience needed to recognize the warning signs that a patient may be at risk of dying by suicide. Too many patients die while their lives are in the hands of people who are supposed to protect them.

Friends and family members need to be aware of the heightened risk of death by suicide in the weeks and months following a cancer diagnosis. By proactively intervening and encouraging people to seek help, it’s possible to protect patients when they are at their most vulnerable.

Leave a Reply