A new study has revealed that adult childhood cancer survivors are at an increased risk of contemplating suicide, even after their cancer treatments have long ended.
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientists have shown that those who were in poor health or who had cancer-related pain or treatment-related chronic conditions were at greater risk for suicidal thoughts.
"Our findings underscore the importance of recognizing the connection between childhood cancer survivors' physical health issues and their risk for suicidal thoughts, as some of the conditions may be treatable," said Dr Christopher Recklitis, MPH, the study's lead author and a psychologist and director of research in the Perini Family Survivors' Center at Dana-Farber.
During the study, the researchers analyzed data from 9,126 adult survivors of pediatric cancers who were part of the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS), a multi-institutional study coordinated through St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis and found that 7.8 percent of the survivors reported having suicidal thoughts, compared with 4.5 percent of the control group.
About 10.6 pct of the survivors of brain and central nervous system (CNS) cancers were the most likely to experience suicidal thoughts, while 6.7pct of the non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivors were the least likely.
"Although the vast majority of survivors reported no suicidal ideation, the significant minority of survivors with thoughts of suicide is a serious concern," said Recklitis.
Childhood cancer survivors, due to the intensive treatments they received, are at risk for developing chronic medical problems later in life.
The researchers found that health problems in adulthood were very strongly associated with the survivors' suicidal thoughts. For example, 28.8 percent of survivors reporting "poor" overall health had suicide ideation, compared with only 3.3 percent of survivors who said their health was "excellent."
Being physically disabled was associated with suicide ideation, as were the number and severity of chronic medical conditions, and cancer related pain. Even when depression was accounted for, physical health problems remained a significant predictor of suicidal thoughts.
The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.