Childhood Cancer Survivors at Raised Risk for Suicide

One in eight adults had considered ending their lives, study found

FRIDAY, Aug. 18, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- More than one in eight adult survivors of childhood cancer have had suicidal thoughts or attempted to take their lives, a new study finds.

"Most people are doing fine, but there is a serious concern about the minority of survivors who have thoughts of ending their lives," lead researcher Christopher Recklitis, a psychologist and director of the Perini Family Survivor's Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said in a prepared statement.

The study included 226 patients, averaging 28 years of age, seen at a clinic that cares for adult survivors of childhood cancer. They were interviewed an average of 18 years after their initial cancer diagnosis.

Overall, 29 of the patients reported some suicidal symptoms. Of those, 19 reported suicidal thoughts alone, one had made a suicide attempt but was no longer troubled by thoughts of suicide, and nine had made suicide attempts and were currently thinking about suicide.

Only 11 of the 29 patients were considered to be significantly depressed, based on their responses to standard rating scales. This suggests that identifying childhood cancer survivors with suicidal thoughts requires more than asking questions about depression, the study authors said.

Factors associated with increased risk for suicidal symptoms included younger age at cancer diagnosis and a longer period of time since diagnosis. Another risk factor included radiation treatments to the head, which can cause growth problems and physical disfigurement, memory and cognitive function impairments, and an increased risk of second cancers.

Patients who felt depressed or hopeless, were in pain, had physical function problems, or were concerned about their appearance were also more likely to report suicidal symptoms, the researchers found.

The study was expected to be published in the Aug. 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about potential long-term impacts of treatment for childhood cancer.

SOURCE: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, news release, Aug. 18, 2006
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