Washington: A recent study has found that head and neck cancer survivors are at an increased risk of suicide.
The Saint Louis University study concluded 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 findings were published in the journal Cancer.
“This problem of suicide is bigger than many realise,” said lead author Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters. “But to think that it might be an even bigger problem among cancer survivors is staggering.”
More than 15.5 million individuals are living with a cancer diagnosis, and the number of cancer survivors is projected to be more than 20 million by 2026. Three percent of those diagnosed patients have head and neck cancer.
However, surviving cancer comes at a cost, Osazuwa-Peters said. In the immediate aftermath of diagnosis and treatment, the need to survive often overtakes concerns about functionality and aesthetics. But 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,” Osazuwa-Peters said. “Some cancer survivors unfortunately decide that is better that they are dead rather than being alive.”
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; non-Hodgkin lymphoma; kidney and renal pelvis; corpus and uterus; leukemia; pancreas; thyroid; stomach; liver and intrahepatic bile duct; Hodgkin lymphoma; brain and other nervous system; testis; ovary; and cervix uteri.
Head and neck cancer survivors have unique treatment needs and distresses, including persistent and late effects of treatment, such as disfigurement and body image issues, swallowing difficulty, ototoxicity and depression. Pain issues and substance abuse are also more prevalent in this population.