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Childhood cancer survivors experience suicidal thoughts decades after diagnosis
Date:10/23/2009

percent of the survivors reported having suicidal thoughts, compared with 4.5 percent of the control group. Survivors of brain and central nervous system (CNS) cancers were the most likely to experience suicidal thoughts (10.6 percent), while survivors of non-Hodgkin lymphoma were the least likely (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 suicidal thoughts and a survivor's age or sex, but there was an association with low levels of education, lower household incomes, and recent unemployment. Those who had never married or were no longer married were more likely than those married to report suicidal thoughts.

Among the sibling control group, age was associated with risk for suicidal thoughts for those ages 18-24 but not other age groups.

Childhood cancer survivors, due to the intensive treatments they received, are at risk for developing chronic medical problems later in life. The researchers found that health problems in adulthood were very strongly associated with the survivors' suicidal thoughts. For example, 28.8 percent of survivors reporting "poor" overall health had suicide ideation, compared with only 3.3 percent of survivors who said their health was "excellent." Being physically disabled was associated with suicide ideation, as were the number and severity of chronic medical conditions, and cancer related pain. Even when depression was accounted for, physical health problems remained a significant predictor of suicidal thoughts.

The relationship between physical health and suicide ideation, Recklitis emphasized, has important implications for the clinical care of survivors. Because survivors who experience suicidal thoughts often are
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Contact: Bill Schaller
william_schaller@dfci.harvard.edu
617-632-5357
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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