Risk of Suicide is Substantially Reduced When Palliative Care is Part of the Treatment
Patients who are diagnosed with advanced stage lung cancer may be at reduced risk of suicide if they are enrolled in palliative care, according to a study of more than 20,000 lung cancer patients in the Veterans Administration Central Cancer Registry. Palliative care is intended to relieve pain and address anxiety and other psychological issues that accompany life threatening illness. Lead author Donald Sullivan, MD, MA, MCR, assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, noted that the psychological ramifications of a lung cancer diagnosis are frequently underrated and overlooked by the healthcare community. "Suicide is a significant national public health problem, especially among lung cancer patients and among veterans. As a result, manifestations of this impact like social isolation, depression, anxiety, can go undiagnosed and untreated," he observed. Dr. Sullivan stated a belief that this is the first study to examine the impact of palliative care on suicide risk in this patient population.
The study examined records of 20,900 veterans with stage IIIB or Stage IV lung cancer, and concluded that patients who received a minimum of one palliative care visit following their diagnosis were 81% less likely to commit suicide. Dr. Sullivan advocated for an integrated treatment approach for these patients, in which palliative care is incorporated with other treatment modalities, but he also noted barriers to engagement of palliative care that include lack of clinician awareness of the benefits. He further stressed the importance of patient and caregiver involvement and initiative in advocating for help in dealing with their diagnosis. The research was published in Annals of the American Thoracic Society.
Read about the findings and recommendations.
The study abstract may be read here.
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