Just being diagnosed with prostate cancer may be hazardous to a man’s health. According to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health, a prostate cancer diagnosis may raise the risk of suicide.
Published in the March 3, 2010, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the study followed more than 342,000 American men with prostate cancer between 1979 and 2004. One hundred forty-eight of them committed suicide over the course of the study. Though small, this number represents a higher rate of suicide compared with the general population. The risk of suicide was greatest within the first three months of diagnosis and remained elevated for a full year. The risk was even higher among patients with metastatic cancer.
The researchers observed that the risk of suicide was highest before prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening became widespread; the risk decreased after 1993 when PSA testing became the standard of care. The drop may be explained by the test’s ability to hint at prostate cancer earlier in the course of the disease, perhaps making the diagnosis somewhat less devastating.
Of note, the researchers did not assess the overall physical or mental health of the men in the study. Nor did they have a cancer-free reference group available for comparison. The researchers suggested that further research could evaluate the impact of a prostate cancer diagnosis on mental health.
SOURCE: Fang F, Keating NL, Mucci LA, et al. Immediate Risk of Suicide and Cardiovascular Death After a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis: Cohort Study in the United States. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2010;102:307-14. PMID: 20124521.
Originally published August 2010; last reviewed March 2, 2011.