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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

High Suicide Rate for Patients with Head and Neck Cancer


Patients with head and neck cancer have more than 3 times the incidence of suicide compared with the general population, with rates highest among patients with cancers of the larynx and hypopharynx, according to a study published by JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Dr. Chan Woo Park R, M.D., of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Newark, and colleagues examined the incidence rate, trends, and risk factors of suicide in patients with cancer of the head and neck between 1973 and 2011. Compared with the suicide rate of the general population, the researchers found that patients with head and neck cancer have more than 3 times the incidence of suicide. Suicide rates were higher in those treated with radiation alone compared with those treated with surgery alone.

There was a nearly 12-fold higher incidence of suicide in patients with hypopharyngeal cancer and a 5-fold higher incidence in those with laryngeal cancer. The authors suggested that this may be linked to these anatomic sites’ intimate relationship with the ability to speak and/or swallow and that loss of these functions can dramatically lower patients’ quality of life. It is possible that the increased rates of tracheostomy dependence and dysphagia [difficulty swallowing] and/or gastrostomy tube dependence in these patients are exacerbating factors in the increased rate of suicide observed.


The authors recommended that additional research and effort should also be devoted to the psychological toll that the cancer, treatments, and resulting morbidity have on patients.