Analysis of Suicide After Cancer Diagnosis by US County-Level Income and Rural vs Urban Designation
Published in JAMA Network Open
Importance Studies suggest the risk of suicide among people with cancer diagnosis is higher compared with the general population. However, little is known about how suicide risk among people diagnosed with cancer might vary according to area-level income and rurality.
Objective To examine whether the risks and patterns of suicide mortality among people with a cancer diagnosis differ by US county-level median income and rural or urban status.
Design, Setting, and Participants A retrospective, population-based cohort study following up individuals who were diagnosed with cancer between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2016, was conducted. The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program 18 registries (SEER 18) database was used to obtain data on persons diagnosed with a first primary malignant tumor. Comparisons with the general US population were based on mortality data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics. Analyses were conducted from February 22 to October 14, 2020.
Exposures County-level median household income and urban or rural status.
Main Outcomes and Measures Standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) of suicide deaths and annual percentage changes (APCs) of SMRs.
Results The SEER 18 database included 5 362 782 persons with cancer diagnoses living in 635 counties. Most study participants were men (51.2%), White (72.2%), and older than 65 years (49.7%). Among them, 6357 persons died of suicide (SMR, 1.41; 95% CI, 1.38-1.44). People with cancer living in the lowest-income counties had a significantly higher risk (SMR, 1.94; 95% CI, 1.76-2.13) than those in the highest-income counties (SMR, 1.30; 95% CI, 1.26-1.34). Those living in rural counties also had significantly higher SMR than those in urban counties (SMR, 1.81; 95% CI, 1.70-1.92 vs SMR, 1.35; 95% CI, 1.32-1.39). For all county groups, the SMRs were the highest within the first year following cancer diagnosis. However, among people living in the lowest-income counties, the risk remained significantly high even after 10 or more years following cancer diagnosis (SMR, 1.83; 95% CI, 1.31-2.48). The comparative risk of suicide mortality within 1 year following cancer diagnosis significantly decreased over the years but then plateaued in the highest-income (2005-2015: APC, 2.03%; 95% CI, −0.97% to 5.13%), lowest-income (2010-2015: APC, 4.80%; 95% CI, −19.97% to 37.24%), and rural (2004-2015: APC, 1.83; 95% CI, −1.98% to 5.79%) counties.
Conclusions and Relevance This cohort study showed disparities in suicide risks and their patterns among people diagnosed with cancer by county-level income and rural or urban status. The findings suggest that additional research and effort to provide psychological services addressing these disparities among people with cancer may be beneficial.