Childhood cancer survivors are at increased risk for various challenges such as emotional distress, impaired quality of life, and financial stress. A new study shows that many long-term childhood cancer survivors are also at increased risk of suicide, although their absolute risk is still low. The results will be posted online by Wiley early on. released CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal from the American Cancer Society.
The relatively limited data on suicide among childhood cancer survivors has been contradicting itself, although it has broadly suggested that suicide rates among these people are low. When Justin Barnes, MD, MS, of Washington University at the St. Louis School of Medicine, and colleagues examined a large population-based database to assess suicide rates among people who contracted cancer from 1975 to 2016 in the United States When children were ill, they too found that the risk of suicide was low.
The team identified 49,836 childhood cancer survivors and 79 suicides, and there was approximately 1 suicide for every 10,000 people each year. This rate was similar to the rate seen in the general US population. However, adult childhood cancer survivors over 28 years of age were at higher risk of suicide than their peers in the general population, with 2 suicides per 10,000 people per year.
Our results raise crucial questions about what can be done to prevent suicide in vulnerable adult long-term survivors of childhood cancer. Such strategies may include improving emergency screening efforts and employing survivors better with a multidisciplinary team. “
Dr. Justin Barnes, MD, MS, Washington University at St. Louis School of Medicine
Dr. Barnes noted that additional research is needed to examine the underlying causes and risk factors for suicides in these individuals. “These could include a history of depression, psychiatric comorbidities, persistent pain, socio-economic stressors, and cancer treatment peculiarities that we couldn’t evaluate in our study,” he said. “A better understanding can be helpful in tailoring interventions for cancer survivors at greatest risk.”
Barnes, JM, et al. (2021) Risk of suicide among people with a history of childhood cancer. Cancer. doi.org/10.1002/cncr.33957.