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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The high incidence of suicide in head and neck cancer patients is highlighted in recent studies


The suicide rate in cancer patients is twice of that found in the general population according to recent US studies. These studies clearly point to the urgent need to recognize and treat psychiatric problems like depression and suicidal ideation in patients.
Suicide rates varied by type of cancer: The third highest rates are among patients with head and neck cancer, including the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx. A high prevalence of depression or distress was found among patients with these types of cancers. This is explained by the devastating effects of the illness on patients’ quality of life, the effect on one's appearance and essential functions such as speaking, swallowing, and breathing.
Most studies have found high incidence of depressive mood disorders associated with suicide among cancer patients. In addition to major and minor depressive disorders, there is also a high rate of less severe depression in elderly cancer patients that is sometimes under recognized and treated. Even though studies have shown that in about half of all suicides among people with cancer, major depression was present, there are other important contributory factors. These include anxiety, lack of social support systems, and demoralization.

The results of these and other studies underscore the significant psychosocial impact of cancer. It is hopeful that health care providers will continue to be vigilant for signs of depression and suicidal thoughts and remain open to discussion of these topics. This will allow patients’ mental health needs to be addressed more readily, with referral to mental health specialists when appropriate.
To read more about these issues see the psychological issues page on this Blog.