Palliative Care, Hospice Help Reduce Suicide Among Cancer Patients

Rising utilization of hospice, psychosocial and palliative care contributes to falling suicide rates among cancer patients, a recent study has found. Between 1999 and 2018 suicide rates dropped among cancer patients even as the nation’s overall rate grew higher. 

Researchers aimed to identify cancer patients at the highest risk of suicide compared to the general population. The study concluded that patients were less likely to commit suicide if they had received hospice, palliative care or other psychosocial services. 

“Increased access to psychosocial, palliative, and hospice care plays an important role in contributing to the decline in suicide among cancer patients,” the study indicated. “This is a sound hypothesis and highlights the need to understand more about factors that heighten risk for suicide among cancer patients as well as components of health services that are most critical in lowering suicide risk among cancer patients.” 


Hospice and palliative care providers, who are focused on improving quality of life, work to address patients’ psychosocial and emotional needs as well as their medical needs. The interdisciplinary team structure for both types of care includes social workers and chaplains, and hospices provide bereavement services to families following a loved one’s death.

Though the suicide rate among cancer patients is declining, it remains higher than the general population, according to the study. The emotional shock of a cancer diagnosis can be profound, and research shows that cancer patients are more likely to experience depression than the public at large.

Like many who suffer from serious illness, cancer patients see significant disruption to their daily lives, their ability to work, their relationships and their finances as medical bills pile up, the researchers reported. The emotional impact of these factors can be exacerbated by conditions such as a lack of social support, isolation and loneliness.


“The study is an important step in understanding overall suicide trends among cancer patients and sets the stage for further investigation into mechanisms underlying this observed decline,” the authors wrote. “An evidence-based approach to understanding what is working, and for whom, is needed to further accelerate the decline in suicide among cancer patients.”