June 14, 2012

Cancer Diagnosis Leads To Higher Rates Of Non-Cancer Deaths

We all know that cancer is a deadly disease and that, despite tremendous advancements over the past decades, complications from cancer can often lead to death. But several recent studies have shown that cancer can indirectly translate into a higher death rate, as well: in the year following a diagnosis, incidents of suicide and deadly cardiovascular disease significantly increase among cancer patients.
This probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. Due to the stress and the emotional toll that a cancer diagnosis can place on a person, those of us in the medical community should not be shocked to see such stress translate into heart attacks and suicide attempts from time to time. But the figures are still disconcerting: cancer survival rates have risen dramatically over the past 25 years, treatment options and support services have grown in number, and the incidence of cardiovascular disease has declined proportionately to these factors – yet the suicide rate only continues to skyrocket.
Why is this the case? Why are people more likely to kill themselves following a diagnosis today (when treatment options are numerous) than in 1984 (when cancer was far more deadly)? These are difficult questions to which, as of now, we cannot offer any concrete answers. Some experts speculate that greater awareness of cancer’s dangers among the general population has made the disease seem more hopeless than in decades past. Others believe that outside factors – an aging population, the economy, and even the proliferation – are instead to blame.
Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that the medical community can (and should) take concerted steps to insure the emotional health of a patient in the year following a diagnosis. Unless the case is terminal, every cancer patient should be given a reason to hope. They should have a plan they expect to follow and a life goal they hope to realize. They should be encouraged to talk about their concerns – both with their oncologist and with a psychiatrist, if needed.
Furthermore, close friends and family members should also be consulted in regards to the stress and emotional toll that the patient will likely carry. Simply having a spouse aware of such pressures can be incredibly beneficial. The spouse is best attuned to look for signs of increased stress and emotional unease. They are most capable of offering consolation and encouraging their partner to use a medical alert service. Although a diagnosis can certainly be difficult for all family members involved, it’s important to stress that the patient himself is ultimately most vulnerable.
Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States. Let’s not push that tally any higher by neglecting some of its peripheral – yet equally-concerning – side effects.

Author:  Rebecca Wilcox