April 4th, 2012

Suicide and CV Death Increase After Cancer Diagnosis

The risks for suicide and cardiovascular death rise sharply after cancer is diagnosed, according to a new study from Sweden published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Fang Fang and colleagues analyzed data from more than 6 million Swedes, including more than half a million who received a first diagnosis of cancer.

Following sharp initial increases in suicide and CV death, risks rapidly declined thereafter, but remained elevated during follow-up. The increased risks for suicide and CV death were greatest among people with highly fatal cancers. A second, case-crossover analysis confirmed the broad findings of the nationwide cohort study.

Here are the main results of the cohort study:

Relative risk (RR) compared with cancer-free people and incidence of suicide after cancer diagnosis:

  • First week: RR 12.6 (CI 8.6-17.8); incidence rate: 2.50 per 1000 person-years
  • First year: RR 3.1 (2.7-3.5); incidence rate: 0.60 per 1000 person-years

RR compared with cancer-free people and incidence of cardiovascular death after cancer diagnosis:

  • First week: RR 5.6 (CI 5.2-5.9); incidence rate: 116.80 per 1000 person-years
  • First 4 weeks: RR 3.3 (3.1-3.4); incidence rate: 65.81 per 1000 person-years

The authors conclude that their “findings suggest that a cancer diagnosis constitutes a major stressor, one that immediately affects the risk of critical, fatal outcomes. We speculate that our findings show only a portion of the range of effects induced by the emotional distress associated with a cancer diagnosis.”

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