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Comment & Response
June 2016

Scratching the Surface of Suicide in Head and Neck Cancer

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina
  • 2Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Durham, North Carolina
  • 3Duke Palliative Care, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina
  • 4Mental Health Service, Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2016;142(6):610. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2016.0255

To the Editor Cancer, both in its diagnosis and its management, imposes significant psychological distress. Kam et al1 recently published a retrospective review of data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, specifically investigating suicide in patients with head and neck (HN) cancer. They determined that suicide rates among patients with HN cancer are significantly higher than those in the general population, which is corroborated by previously published evidence.2 Among the broad category of HN cancers, hypopharyngeal cancer was associated with the highest incidence of suicide. The authors postulated that such a correlation may be linked with diminished quality of life (QOL) associated with the disease and its treatment. An additional factor, not discussed in their paper, is the fact that the 5-year survival rate for individuals with hypopharyngeal cancer is 31.9%3—a demoralizing prognosis for any patient.

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