Despite improved survival rates among cancer patients, those treated for head and neck cancers are at an increased risk of death by suicide, a new study has found. It found that head and neck cancer survivors are two times more likely to commit suicide than survivors of other cancers and four times more likely than the general population. The reason could be that approximately one-half of head and neck cancer survivors become functionally disabled after completing treatment and are unable to return to work.
Persistent and lasting disfigurements or loss of skills may increase depression, psychological distress, fear of recurrence and suicidal ideation. “Now, more than ever before, people are outliving their cancer diagnosis. This makes lifelong surveillance critical — being considered a ‘cancer survivor’ does not tell you how well the individual is doing,” said Osazuwa-Peters, Assistant Professor at the Saint Louis University in the US.
For the study, published in the journal Cancer, the team examined 1,51,167 participants, who were diagnosed with head or neck cancer, aged above 20. The suicide rate among the head and neck cancer patients was compared to the rates of those diagnosed with prostate, breast, lung and bronchus, colon and rectum, urinary bladder, melanoma of the skin, kidney and renal pelvis, uterus, leukemia, pancreas, thyroid, stomach, liver and intrahepatic bile duct, brain and other nervous system, testis, ovary, and cervix.
Importantly, among males, head and neck survivors had an increased risk of suicide compared with survivors of colorectal, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney, leukemia, liver, melanoma, prostate, testis, thyroid and bladder cancer. On the other hand, among female survivors, head and neck cancer patients had an increased risk of suicide compared with survivors of melanoma, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, uterine, breast, thyroid, colorectal, kidney and brain cancer.