Research Finds Links Between Hospice Care, Reduced Cancer-Related Suicides

Data trends have found that suicide rates among cancer patients have decreased during the last three decades, with improved psychosocial end-of-life care a potential factor.

Researchers recently examined trends in cancer-related suicides during the last four decades and how these rates compare with the general population. A large aim was to gain a broader picture of the driving forces that have led to both heightened suicide rates and declines.

Cancer-related suicide rates were on the rise between 1975 and 1989, according to a recent data analysis published Translational Psychiatry. Since then, patient data trends showed a “significant decline” in suicides among cancer patients, particularly among seniors between 60 and 69 years old, according to the researchers.


Alongside advancements in oncology services and surgical procedures, improved access to hospice and palliative care among cancer patients may be a leading reason for declining suicide rates since the late 1980s, according to researchers from the National Cancer Center/National Clinical Research Center for Cancer/Cancer Hospital & Shenzhen Hospital, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College.

“In addition to the promising advances in medical treatments for malignancies, this period witnessed an evolving role of psycho-oncology care, palliative care and hospice care, leading to the promotion and increased utilization of these services by patients with cancer, enhancing their overall quality of life,” the researchers wrote in the data analysis. “Furthermore, the development of integrated care models, including collaborative care models, has provided a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to cancer care.”

Suicide rates among cancer patients saw a “sharp slump” between 2013 and 2017, with researchers attributing the decrease to several potential factors. Among these was greater integration of hospice and palliative services in coordinated care models across the continuum, they indicated.


Cancer patients face unique psychological and behavioral health challenges such as increased emotional distress, depression and anxiety, the researchers stated. These individuals also often experience heavy financial burdens tied to expensive health care and medication costs, as well as higher expenses around transportation to medical appointments and caregiving, they added.

The interdisciplinary scope of psychosocial, spiritual, emotional and physical support involved in hospice and palliative care may help ease symptom burden among cancer patients, according to the data analysis/researchers.

Though access has increased as providers grow these services, greater support is needed for cancer patients – particularly those with more advanced disease progressions facing increased adversity and risk of suicide, the researchers indicated.

“Several studies suggest a link between suicide risk and the type or severity of cancer,” the researchers stated. “Our study aligns with the broader understanding that patients with cancer face a significantly higher risk of suicide and emphasizes the need for continued efforts to improve mental health support and care for these patients.”

The findings suggest that goal-concordant care emphasis included in hospice and palliative care could have a positive impact on the ability to identify cancer patients at risk of suicide earlier in their disease trajectories.

These professionals can help assess and address key changes in patients’ mood such as increased feelings of regret and remorse, depression, hopelessness and loss, the researchers stated. More focused care and detailed patient screenings could less risk factors associated with suicide, they added.

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