Suicide and women living with and beyond a breast cancer diagnosis

Fiona Milligan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Early diagnosis and intervention, and the use of targeted cancer treatments, have significantly reduced mortality from breast cancer. Emotional distress following a diagnosis of cancer is a normal and anticipated, but it may manifest in some individuals at some point as a level of anxiety or depression that significantly affects quality of life and coping. In extreme cases, these feelings can move from physical symptoms of low energy and an inability to complete basic tasks to despair and hopelessness. Confronting a cancer diagnosis is a life-changing experience, bringing a sense of vulnerability. This may create or precipitate a crisis that threatens to overwhelm a person, resulting in a negative impact on established coping mechanisms. There appears to be a paucity of literature on suicide or suicide attempts by people living with and beyond a cancer diagnosis. A literature search identified 19 papers on suicide and or suicide ideation in patients who had had a cancer diagnosis, which were included in the review. Two clear themes emerged from the literature: that a cancer diagnosis with or without pre-existing mental health comorbidities is a risk factor for suicide; and that there is a significant incidence and prevalence of anxiety and depression in cancer patient populations. The literature identifies multiple variables that impact on prevalence of mental health disorders after a breast cancer diagnosis. Despite this, there appears to be a lack of guidance at national level for screening for mental health comorbidities in patients with a cancer diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)954-960
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Journal of Nursing
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2022


  • breast cancer
  • missed opportunity
  • review of the literature
  • suicide


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