For the study, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College/New York Presbyterian Hospital analyzed information from a large patient database of 3,640,229 people, looking at suicide deaths for lung, prostate, breast and colorectal cancers individually.
They found that over four decades, there were 6,661 suicides among cancer patients.
When they compared suicides among cancer patients to the general population, the rate in patients with any kind of cancer was 60 percent higher.
“Cancer patients are under a lot of duress and stress when they’re under treatment,” said study author Dr. Jeffrey Port, a thoracic and cardiac surgeon at Weill Cornell Medical Center, told CBS News.
When the scientists broke down the data on suicide by cancer type, they found dramatic differences. The suicide rate among lung cancer patients stood out: it was more than four times higher than the general population.
They also found suicide rates were 40 percent higher than average among colorectal cancer patients, and 20 percent higher among those diagnosed with breast cancer or prostate cancer.
Despite this, many doctors don’t consider suicide risk in cancer patients, Port said.
Patients may feel anxiety, depression or hopelessness after hearing stories from family members or friends who knew someone with the disease. Port said doctors need to reassure their patients that every case is unique and that there are good treatments for early stage patients.
“As lung cancer surgeons, we know the lung cancer diagnosis is a very serious diagnosis, but what’s not out there is that patients with early stage disease are highly curable,” said Port