Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Young Cancer Survivors May Experience Cognitive Problems, Suicidal Thoughts

Child and adolescent survivors of cancer—particularly those experiencing cognitive problems—may be at higher risk of suicidal thoughts than other youth their age, suggests a report in Psycho-Oncology.

“Survivors of pediatric cancer are at elevated risk for both neurocognitive and psychological difficulties following cancer treatment,” wrote Christina M. Sharkey, Ph.D., of Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., and colleagues. Studies of adult cancer survivors suggest there may be a link between neurocognitive deficits and suicidal ideation, but little is known of whether such deficits are also linked to suicidal ideation in younger cancer survivors, the authors wrote.

To examine the prevalence of suicidal ideation in young survivors of cancer, Sharkey and colleagues recruited youth who had been diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 6 and 19 and were receiving care at a pediatric neuropsychology clinic. Patients included in the study were medically stable at the time of the evaluation; had completed multiple behavioral and cognitive assessments; and had parents and teachers who had filled out assessments of the youth’s suicidal ideation, executive function, symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and more. Patients were an average age of 11.5 years old and had been diagnosed with cancer more than five years ago.

Of the 166 pediatric cancer patients in the analysis, 17.5% had experienced suicidal ideation. Those with suicidal ideation had significantly more parent-reported inattention symptoms compared with those without suicidal ideation, the authors reported. Additionally, those with suicidal ideation had significantly greater impairments in global executive functioning and behavioral regulation compared with youth without suicidal ideation according to both parent and teacher reports. Youth with suicidal ideation did not significantly differ on measures of IQ, working memory, and processing speed from those without suicidal ideation.

The researchers concluded, “Although replication of these findings is needed and a clearer understanding of the relationship between [executive function] impairments and suicidal ideation is essential, the present study underscores the importance of screening and examining suicidality among youth treated for pediatric cancer.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Pediatric Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry—Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”

(Image: iStock/FatCamera)

Participate in Upcoming Virtual Events

Don’t miss your chance to participate in two APA virtual events this week:

  • Tonight (November 30) at 8 p.m. ET: Fireside chat on COVID-19 and the mental health of Indigenous people.
  • Tomorrow (December 1) at 6 p.m. ET: Town hall on social determinants of mental health in psychiatry in the context of policy and public health.