Study Examines Risk of Suicidal Thoughts Among Childhood Cancer Survivors

Some may call an adult who survived childhood cancer blessed. For some of those survivors, this description misses the mark. In fact, these survivors have an increased risk for suicidal thoughts, even if it has been decades since their last cancer treatment.

A recent Science Daily post examined the findings of a study led by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientists. This study found that nearly eight percent of these survivors said they had experienced suicidal thoughts or ideation. The most likely to have experienced this was survivors of brain and central nervous system cancers. There was also a higher risk for those who were in poor health or who had cancer-related pain or treatment-related chronic conditions.

“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 Christopher Recklitis, PhD, MPH, the study’s lead author and a psychologist and director of research in the Perini Family Survivors’ Center at Dana-Farber.

Of the 9,126 adult survivors of pediatric cancers who were also evaluated for this study, 7.8 percent reported having suicidal thoughts, compared with 4.5 percent in the control group. Brain and central nervous system cancer survivors were at 10.6 percent and non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivors were at 6.7 percent.

“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, who is also an assistant professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston.

The data did not show any link between such thoughts and a survivor’s age or sex. There was, however, an association between low levels of education, lower household incomes and recent unemployment. Those who had never married or were no longer married were also more likely than those married to report suicidal thoughts.

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