(HealthDay News) — A recent cancer diagnosis is associated with a higher risk of suicide and death from cardiovascular causes, with the risk being highest in the weeks after diagnosis, according to a study published in the April 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Fang Fang, M.D., Ph.D., from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, and colleagues analyzed the immediate risk of suicide or death from cardiovascular causes among 6,073,240 Swedish adults from 1991 to 2006. Of these, 534,154 received a first diagnosis of cancer during this period.

The researchers found that, compared to those without cancer, patients diagnosed with cancer had a higher risk of suicide during the first week (relative risk [RR], 12.6) and during the first year (RR, 3.1) after diagnosis. Similarly, patients diagnosed with any cancer excluding central nervous system cancers (to avoid misdiagnosis between these tumors and stroke) had a higher risk of cardiovascular death during the first week (RR, 5.6) and during the first four weeks (RR, 3.3) after diagnosis. During the first year after diagnosis, the increased risk declined rapidly. The risk was notably higher for cancers with a poor prognosis.

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“Our findings suggest that a cancer diagnosis constitutes a major stressor, one that immediately affects the risk of critical, fatal outcomes,” Fang and colleagues conclude. “We speculate that our findings show only a portion of the range of effects induced by the emotional distress associated with a cancer diagnosis.”

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