The risk of suicide in cancer patients: a review of the literature

Psychooncology. 2010 Dec;19(12):1250-8. doi: 10.1002/pon.1717.


Objectives: This review investigates the risk of suicide in people diagnosed with cancer.

Method: A literature search of PsycINFO, MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL yielded 677 articles of which the abstracts were reviewed for their relevance. Seventy-one articles were identified as relevant and a further 3 were identified in a search of cited and citing articles; following application of inclusion and exclusion criteria, 39 articles were included in the review.

Results: The reported incidence of completed suicide in cancer patients ranged from standardised mortality ratio of 1 to 11. The reported percentages of suicidal ideation in non-psychiatric populations of cancer patients ranged from 0.8 to 71.4%, compared to a reported prevalence of suicidal ideation in the general population, of between 1.1 and 19.8%. Risk factors identified for completed suicide and suicidal ideation in cancer patients include mental health, socio-demographic and illness factors. Some of these risk factors extend to the general population; however, some are specific to cancer such as cancer site, physical functioning and prognosis.

Conclusions: Despite the prevalence of suicidal ideation in a cancer population being comparable to the general population, the prevalence of completed suicide is elevated. Although suicidal ideation does not necessarily result in completed suicide, it is important that adequate training be provided for cancer professionals on the risk factors for suicide in cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Mental Health*
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Suicide / psychology*