Risk factors associated with suicide in adolescents and young adults (AYA) with cancer

Sarah Heynemann, Kate Thompson, Donovan Moncur, Sandun Silva, Madawa Jayawardana, Jeremy Lewin

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Background: Higher rates of death by suicide are recognized both in individuals of any age with cancer and, separately, among adolescents and young adults (AYA) without cancer. Given this intersection, identifying risk factors associated with suicidal risk among AYA with cancer is critical. Objective: To identify characteristics associated with suicide among AYA with cancer. Methods: A retrospective analysis of AYA (aged 15–39) during 1975–2016 from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database was conducted. Clinical and demographic factors associated with death by suicide among the AYA cancer population were compared to (i) US population normative data (standardized mortality ratios [SMRs]) and (ii) other AYA individuals with cancer (odds ratios). Results: In total, 922 suicides were found in 500,366 AYA with cancer (0.18%), observed for 3,198,261 person-years. The SMR for AYA with cancer was 34.1 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 31.4–36.9). Suicide risk was particularly high in females (SMR = 43.4, 95% CI: 37.2–50.4), unmarried persons (SMR = 50.6, 95% CI: 44.7–57.1), those with metastatic disease (SMR = 45.2, 95% CI: 33.1–60.3), or certain histological subtypes (leukemia, central nervous system, and soft tissue sarcoma). Risk generally reduced over time, however remained elevated ≥5 years following a cancer diagnosis (SMR > 5 years = 28.1, 95% CI: 25.4–31.0). When comparing those who died from suicide and those who did not, the following factors demonstrated significant associations: sex (males > females), race (White ethnicity > Black/other ethnicity), relationship status (never married > other), and disease stage (distant > localized). Conclusions: Death due to suicide/non-accidental injury is high compared to normative data, requiring increased awareness among health-care providers, suicide risk monitoring in AYA, and appropriately tailored psychosocial interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7339-7346
Number of pages8
JournalCancer Medicine
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • adolescents and young adults
  • cancer
  • suicidality
  • suicide


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