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Cancer Health Center

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Depression (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Suicide Risk in Patients with Cancer

It's common for cancer patients to feel hopeless at times.

Cancer patients sometimes feel hopeless. Although few cancer patients are reported to die by suicide, talk with your doctor if you feel hopeless or have thoughts of suicide. There are ways your doctor can help you. Getting treatment for major depression has been shown to lower the risk of suicide in cancer patients.

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Risk factors for suicide may be related to the cancer or other conditions.

General risk factors for suicide include the following:

  • A history of mental problems, especially those that cause you to act without thinking.
  • A family history of suicide.
  • A history of suicide attempts.
  • Depression or feeling hopeless.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Recent death of a friend or spouse.
  • Few friends or little family support.

Risk factors that are related to cancer include the following:

  • A diagnosis of oral, throat, or lung cancer.
  • Advanced stage cancer and poor prognosis.
  • Confusion or being unable to think clearly.
  • Pain that is not relieved with treatment.
  • Physical changes such as the following:
    • Being unable to walk and move around on your own.
    • Loss of bowel and bladder control.
    • Loss of a limb (amputation).
    • Loss of eyesight or hearing.
    • Paralysis.
    • Being unable to eat or swallow.
    • Extreme tiredness.

An assessment is done to find the reasons for hopeless feelings or thoughts of suicide.

Talking about thoughts of suicide with your doctor gives you a chance to describe your feelings and fears, and may help you feel more in control. Your doctor will try to find out what is causing your hopeless feelings, such as:

  • Symptoms that are not well controlled.
  • Fear of having a painful death.
  • Fear of being alone during your cancer experience.

You can find out what may be done to help relieve your emotional and physical pain.

Controlling symptoms caused by cancer and cancer treatment is an important goal in preventing suicide.

Having constant discomfort or pain can cause you to feel desperate. Keeping pain and other symptoms under control will help to:

  • Relieve distress.
  • Make you feel more comfortable.
  • Prevent thoughts of suicide.
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