HealthDay News — Head and neck cancer patients may be at increased risk for suicide, according to research published online in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

The study included 350,413 patients in the United States diagnosed with head and neck cancer between 1973 and 2011. Of those patients, 857 died by suicide.

The investigators found that the suicide rate among head and neck cancer patients was three times higher than in the general population. And suicide rates were higher among patients treated with radiation alone compared to surgery alone. 

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Suicide rates were highest among those with cancers of the lower part of the throat, including the larynx and hypopharynx, at five times and 12 times higher, respectively, than in the general population.

“This may be linked to these anatomic sites’ intimate relationship with the ability to speak and/or swallow. Loss of these functions can dramatically lower patients’ quality of life,” Richard Chan Woo Park, MD, of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, and colleagues wrote. “While there is a considerable body of research that examines survival outcomes for patients with head and neck cancer, additional research and effort should also be devoted to the psychological toll that the cancer, treatments and resulting morbidity have on patients.”


Kam D, Salib A, Gorgy G et al. Incidence of Suicide in Patients With Head and Neck Cancer. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015:1. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2015.2480.