WEDNESDAY, April 4 (HealthDay News) -- When people learn they have cancer, they might face a heightened risk of suicide or a fatal heart attack in the days and weeks that follow, according to a large new study.
Using nationwide census and death registry data that covered more than 6 million people over a 15-year period ending in 2006, Swedish researchers tabulated the suicides and cardiovascular fatalities among people with new cancer diagnoses and compared them to similar deaths in those without cancer.
Suicide risk was more than 12 times higher for people with cancer during the first week after diagnosis and nearly five times higher during the first three months, they found.
Death from cardiovascular causes -- particularly heart attack -- was 5.6 times higher in the week after a cancer diagnosis and 3.3 times higher in the first month.
Hard-to-treat cancers with poor odds for survival, including cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, liver, lung and central nervous system, were most common in these types of deaths, the researchers said.
"That the risk increase appeared so quickly after cancer diagnosis and then decreased in magnitude during the first year after diagnosis really illustrated the role of the diagnosis itself on these adverse outcomes," said study co-author Dr. Katja Fall, a senior lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Orebro. "It largely argues against [death] from cancer treatment and progression that presumably take time to accumulate."
The researchers found a prevalence of 0.18 suicides for cancer-free people and a prevalence of 0.36 for people with any type of cancer when they looked at deaths per 1,000 person-years.
Suicide risk decreased as time passed, but it was still about three times higher during the first year, and remained higher after. For heart-related death, risk leveled off after a year.
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