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Major study finds cancer patients are up to five times more likely to commit suicide

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Patients need ongoing emotional support and mental health care

Cancer patients are more likely to take their own lives according to a major UK study.

Those with urological cancers, such as bladder, prostate, and kidney cancer are five times more likely to attempt suicide than those without cancer.

‘This is important, as we know that people who attempt suicide are at higher risk of subsequently being successful in completing a suicide,’ said first author Dr Mehran Afshar, St George's Hospital, London.

‘And we have shown this 'intent' to commit to be far higher in our cancer population, thus confirming a real need to address psychological issues early on in the management of these patients.’

Severe psychological stress is a main side-effect of cancer diagnosis and treatment, with many patients also experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the general population, the suicide rate is 10 per 100,000 people, but in cancer patients this number triples to 30 per 100,000. For those with prostate cancer, a suicide rate of 52 per 100,000 was revealed – the highest of any form of cancer.

‘There are particular issues which are specific to this cancer group - for example, men with prostate cancer undergo treatment which can affect their bladder function, their bowel function, erectile function and libido, can result in symptoms similar to the female menopause, and entirely alter the personality, leading to relationship problems, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder,’ continued Mr Afshar.

The work implies that there may be some cancers which affect people differently, and according to Professor Hein van Poppel, adjunct secretary general of the European Association of Urology, urological cancers can affect people’s ‘sense of self’ in ways that many cancers don’t.

‘This distress does not stop when the cancer is removed or contained, and we owe it to patients to ensure that ongoing emotional support and mental health care is fully integrated in cancer care,’ said Mr van Poppel.

Last month, prostate cancer over-took breast cancer as the most prevalent manifestation of the disease in the UK – Prostate Cancer UK reports that one man dies every 45 minutes from this condition.

Studies funded by Cancer Research UK in 2014 found that the majority of cancer patients who also suffer from depression go untreated.

‘This research also shows that diagnosing depression in cancer patients is not enough – better treatment is urgently needed,’ said Aine McCarthy in a Cancer Research UK blog post.

‘The researchers found that people with cancer often accept their feelings of depression and didn’t recognise them as symptoms that could be treated.’

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