Head and Neck Cancers Coverage From Every Angle

High Rate of Suicide in Survivors of Head and Neck Cancer

By: Melissa E. Fryman, MS
Posted: Monday, November 19, 2018

The rate of suicide among cancer survivors remains high and seems to “mirror the national trends in terms of increasing incidence of suicide.” Among cancer survivors, those at highest risk are survivors of head and neck cancer, who are about two times more likely to die from suicide; only survivors of pancreatic cancer had a higher suicide rate. Nosayaba Osazuwa‐Peters, BDS, PhD, MPH, CHES, of the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and colleagues, published their findings in the journal Cancer.

“This problem of suicide is bigger than many realize,” commented Dr. Osazuwa-Peters in a Saint Louis University Medical Center press release. Head and neck cancer survivors are particularly vulnerable, often experiencing significant functional, aesthetic, and economic losses.

In this study, the investigators focused on the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results 18-registry database for deaths due to suicide between 2000 and 2014. The 20 most common cancers were included. Head and neck cancer survivors died by suicide at a rate of 63.4 per 100,000 person-years, compared with 23.6 per 100,000 person-years for survivors of other cancers and 17.4 per 100,000 person-years for individuals in the general population. A 27% increase in suicide for head and neck cancer survivors was seen between 2010 and 2014.

“Now, more than ever before, people are outliving their cancer diagnosis. This makes lifelong surveillance critical,” concluded Dr. Osazuwa-Peters. “Screening should be viewed as a doorway to further communication, appropriate assessment, and tailored interventions, all of which are considered best practice in psychosocial care for survivors of [head and neck cancer].”

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