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Although few breast cancer survivors commit suicide, the probability of suicide among breast cancer survivors appears to be higher than among women in the general population. These results were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Thanks to improvements in cancer screening and treatment, cancer survivors are living longer than ever before. Of the estimated 10 million cancer survivors in the U.S., roughly two million are survivors of breast cancer. In order to better meet the needs of cancer survivors, an increasing amount of research is focusing on the long-term effects of cancer on health and quality of life.

Studies from Canada and Scandinavia have reported an increased risk of suicide among breast cancer survivors, but little is known about the suicide risk among breast cancer survivors in the United States. In order to better measure this risk, researchers conducted a study among more than 700,000 women with breast cancer. The women were enrolled from the U.S. and four Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway).

Study participants had been diagnosed with breast cancer between 1953 and 2001, and had survived for at least one year after diagnosis. The frequency of suicide among study participants was compared to the frequency of suicide among women in the general population.

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  • Of the 723,801 study participants, 836 committed suicide.
  • The probability that a breast cancer survivor would commit suicide during the 30 years after diagnosis was less than 1%.
  • Compared to women in the general population, the women with breast cancer were 37% more likely to commit suicide.
  • The elevated risk of suicide among breast cancer survivors persisted long after diagnosis.
  • Risk of suicide was higher among black women than among white women.
  • Risk of suicide was higher among women diagnosed with more advanced cancer.

The researchers conclude that although the probability of suicide is low, this study suggests that “long-term follow-up programs for breast cancer survivors should include resources devoted to psychosocial concerns.”

Reference: Schairer C, Brown LM, Chen BE et al. Suicide after Breast Cancer: an International Population-based Study of 723,801 Women. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2006;98:1416-1419.

Related News:Report Calls Attention to Needs of Cancer Survivors (11/9/2005)

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