Characteristics of patients with cancer who die by suicide: Coronial case series in an Australian state

Justin Dwyer, Jeremy Dwyer, Richard Hiscock, Clare O'Callaghan, Keryn Taylor, Margaret Ross, Lyndal Bugeja, Jennifer Philip

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Objective: Suicide rates are elevated in epidemiological studies, but extrapolating population level data to the individual patient cancer is difficult, and there is a dearth of studies examining how suicidality might be linked to the cancer experience. We examine the cancer-suicide correlates to explore clinical implications and future research directions. Method: We used a novel database to examine all suicide deaths reported to the Coroners Court of Victoria between 2009 and 2013 in individuals with active, diagnosed cancer. Cases were classified in relation to whether cancer had been a probable, possible, or unlikely influence on suicidal ideation. Sociodemographic, clinical, health service contacts, and suicide method data were analysed to describe the characteristics of individuals with cancer at the time of their suicide. Results: There were 2870 suicide deaths, and 118 cases met inclusion criteria. Clinically distinct patient subgroups emerged through a contrast between those cases where the data suggested a correlate between cancer and suicide, and those where the data did not. The former group had many more cancer-related health problems than the latter group, who had a higher burden of psychiatric illness that predated their cancer diagnosis. The intent to suicide was known to most clinicians. Conclusions: All clinicians working with cancer patients should be prepared to explore suicidal ideation. Understanding how the patient conceptualises suicidality with respect to cancer experience and mental health may be of central importance in determining whether mental health care is best provided as part of cancer care, or through a separate mental health service.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2195-2200
Number of pages6
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • cancer
  • coroner
  • psycho-oncology
  • suicidal ideation
  • suicide

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