Risk factors for suicide among older adults with cancer

Aging Ment Health. 2014 Sep;18(7):854-60. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2014.892567. Epub 2014 Mar 7.


Objective: To determine whether the increased risk of suicide for individuals with cancer may be explained by functional limitations, lack of social support, or other factors.

Method: In this population-based case-control study, interviews of primary informants for suicides in the state of North Carolina were compared to interviews with participants in the Piedmont Health Study of the Elderly to estimate adjusted odds ratios for suicide and self-reported, physician diagnosed cancer, heart attack, stroke, and hip fracture.

Results: Adjusting for all other factors, there was a statistically significant association of suicide and cancer (odds ratio [OR] 2.62, 95% confidence interval [CI] CI 1.84-3.73), but not heart attack, hip fracture, or stroke. The risk of suicide was also elevated for men vs. women (OR 17.15, CI 10.88-27.02), whites vs. blacks (OR 9.70, CI 6.07-15.50), and individuals with stressful life events (OR 2.75, CI 1.97-3.86) or limitations of instrumental (OR 2.93, CI 2.03-4.22) but not physical activities of daily living. Suicide cases were not more likely to be short of breath or poor sleep quality. Suicide was statistically significantly less likely for study participants who were married with spouse living vs. other (OR 0.61, CI 0.43-0.88) or who had one or more indicators of social support (OR 0.27, CI 0.19-0.39).

Conclusion: After adjustment for other risk factors, suicide was strongly associated with cancer but not with other disabling, potentially fatal conditions.

Keywords: epidemiology (mental health); functional status; physical disorders; social support; suicide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*