Dr. Wayne Kendal, a radiation oncologist at the Ottawa Hospital Regional Cancer Center, conducted an analysis of 1.3 million cancer patients in the United States, and found that 19 out of every 1,000 males diagnosed with cancer committed suicide, while four out of every 1,000 female cancer patients took their own lives.
While the general American population has a suicide rate of 10.6 suicides out of every 100,000 per year, roughly 24 cancer patients out of every 100,000 commit suicide. Kendal found that gender, prognosis, type of cancer, stage of the disease, ethnicity and family situation all contributed to cancer patients' suicide risk.
"If we were to draw a composite picture of the patient most at risk, this would be a widowed white male, with a new diagnosis of possibly head and neck cancer or multiple myeloma, with widespread and perhaps high-grade disease or maybe a history of other cancers," Kendal said.
"By contrast, a patient with decreased risk of suicide would be a woman of African-American heritage, with perhaps colorectal or cervical cancer, and living with her spouse."
According to Kendal's research, male cancer patients were nearly five times more likely to commit suicide than female patients, which holds true for suicide rates in the general population as well. Kendal also found that cancers of the bladder, lungs, head, bronchus, neck and esophagus, and myeloma all accounted for higher rates of suicide.
Though he was not clear on individual cancer patients' reasons for taking their own lives, Kendal said it could be because of depression, fear of pain, a desire not to be a burden to others or the desire to die with dignity.
"What we as oncologists need to do, we need to realize that people need support," Kendal said. "Oncology patients are not an island. We need to make sure that everybody has support. It's not just treating diseases, it's treating the person -- the holistic approach that I wanted to foster."
Natural health advocate Mike Adams said Kendal's study was important because many cancer diagnoses are false positives.
"Breast cancer screening has recently been shown to be extremely dangerous, harming 10 times as many women as it helps," Adams said. "And now this suicide risk emerges as yet another danger to women who are falsely diagnosed with breast cancer due to faulty screening procedures or the wishful thinking of cancer centers looking for increased revenues."