The Importance of Psychosocial Care During and After Cancer Treatment


A newly released report shows that suicide risk is higher in cancer patients than the general population. In fact, the incidence of suicide among U.S. cancer patients is nearly twice that of the general population, and suicide rates vary among patients with cancers of different anatomic sites, according to a study published online August 11 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO). Surprisingly, the risk remained elevated for as long as 15 years after diagnosis.

Researchers from the University of Washington analyzed Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) data from nearly 3.6 million patients diagnosed with cancer from 1973 to 2002. They compared those data, which included 5,838 suicides, with data from the U.S. general population collected by the National Center for Health Statistics. The cancer patients had an adjusted rate of 31.4 suicides per 100,000 person-years, compared with 16.7 suicides in the general population. Suicide rates were particularly high for cancers of the lung/bronchus (81.7), stomach (71.7), oral cavity/pharynx (53.1), and larynx (46.8).

Two other studies that examined the association between cancer and suicide appear in the same issue of JCO. The second study, using data from Medicare patients in New Jersey, found that the “risk of suicide in older adults is higher among patients with cancer than among patients with other medical illnesses, even after psychiatric illness and the risk of dying within a year were accounted for.” A third study of cancer center patients in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, found, “A substantial number of cancer outpatients report thoughts that they would be better off dead or had thoughts of hurting themselves.”

In an editorial, Dr. Timothy Quill of the University of Rochester Medical Center, noted, “What is interesting and potentially important about the studies is that these thoughts about suicide and the associated risk factors that are relatively well known for terminally ill patients may be just as important for those patients with cancer who are survivors or are living with the disease.”

The LAF has created a program to assist those affected by cancer in dealing with the emotional challenges and changes that come with cancer, LIVESTRONG SurvivorCare. It is a free service that provides one-on-one counseling with trained social workers and case managers to help in addressing the myriad of issues facing cancer survivors, whether they be emotional, physical, or financial. The program can also help connect individuals to local support groups and services if needed. Individuals can connect to LIVESTRONG SurvivorCare by calling 866-235-7205 or though the LAF website at

Please make sure your friends and family members who have been affected by cancer know of this valuable resource and encourage them to not underestimate the emotional impact cancer can have on their lives, even years after they have completed treatment.

(Special thanks to the NCI Cancer Bulletin for highlighting this important research.)


  1. James Curtis says:

    This is an area not touched upon often enough by physicians and other caregivers in the Cancer treatment arena. I am an AML survivor – I received a stem cell transplant at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, WA on March 11th of this year. Very little focus and resources for psychological and other emotional care and support were offered – both during and now after my treatment process. Taking care of one’s mental and emotional condition is still largely the job of the individual and their immediate family. More emphasis on this area is essential in order to promote healing through improved emotional health and to unleash the power of the mind as another tool in the fight to survive.

  2. James-

    We encourage you to contact the new LIVESTRONG Survivorship Center at Fred Hutchinson. Tel: 206.667.2814

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