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According to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and presented at the American Head and Neck Society’s annual meeting, patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer have four times the rate of suicide than the general public.

Head and neck cancer originates in sites within the head or neck. The American Cancer Society estimated that 11,000 individuals died from head and neck cancer in the United States in 2005. The most common type of head and neck cancer is squamous cell, which refers to the type of cell where the cancer originated.

Treatment for head and neck cancer often includes surgery that can leave patients disfigured. Furthermore, surgery can impair a patient’s voice, taste, swallowing, chewing, breathing, and hearing. This can produce extreme psychological distress and make performing everyday activities difficult.

Researchers from the University of Washington recently evaluated data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) from 1973 and 2002 involving patients who had been diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

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  • Patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer had four times the rate of suicide than the general population.
  • Advanced disease was associated with higher suicide rates than earlier disease.

The researchers concluded that, in regards to suicide risk for patients with head and neck cancer, different “quality-of-life, functional, and psychological studies are required to help answer these questions and to refocus our attention.” Patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer should discuss all treatment options with their physician.

Reference: Zeller J. High Suicide Risk Found for Patients With Head and Neck Cancer. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2006;;296:1716-1717.