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Minerva Psichiatr. 1994 Sep;35(3):175-86.

[Increased suicide risk in cancer patients].

[Article in Italian]

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  • 1Universit√† degli Studi di Bologna, Istituto di Psichiatria P. Ottonello.


It is a much debated question whether suicide risk is higher for cancer patients in comparison to general population. We analyse this problem by a literature review and focus on specific risk groups. We have identified two different research topics: (1) The study of cancer prevalence among suicides. (2) The study of suicide incidence among cancer patients. Mainly on a basis of the latter and more homogeneous researches, we have outlined that cancer diagnosis involves an increased suicide risk. It is difficult on the contrary to explain the sources of suicidal behaviour by means of the heterogeneous literature data. Most of authors agree that suicide risk is highest during the first to second year since diagnosis. The risk can be attributed to the information on cancer diagnosis, but mainly to the seriousness of neoplastic disease, because of negative short-term outcome of most serious patients. Furthermore the risk can be attributed to the period immediately following discharge from oncologic and surgical wards, especially for long-term patients who suffer from distress given by the treatment itself. Then it is at risk the relapse after symptom remission. The high-risk patients are those suffering from the most severe and rapidly progressive neoplasms, treated by chemotherapy or affected by terminal illness with intractable pain. Patients with previous psychiatric history (particularly including alcohol dependence and depression) are likely to kill themselves in the remission phase of illness. In conclusion cancer patients who commit suicide, are not a homogeneous group. The relationships between cancer, depression and suicide are crucial, because severe depression is particularly frequent among cancer patients but is sometimes misdiagnosed and lacking in treatment.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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