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The impact of a cancer diagnosis on nonfatal self-injury: a matched cohort study in Ontario


Background — Psychological distress following a cancer diagnosis potentially increases the risk of intentional, nonfatal self-injury. The purpose of this work is to evaluate and compare rates of nonfatal self-injury among individuals in Ontario diagnosed with cancer against matched controls with no history of cancer.

Methods — Adults in Ontario diagnosed with cancer from 2007 to 2019 were matched to 2 controls with no history of cancer, based on age and sex. We calculated the absolute and relative difference in rates of nonfatal self-injury in the 5 years before and after the index date (date of cancer diagnosis and dummy date for controls). We used crude difference-in-differences methods and adjusted Poisson regression-based analyses to examine whether the change in rates of nonfatal self-injury before and after index differed between cancer patients and controls.

Results — The cohort included 803 740 people with cancer and 1 607 480 matched controls. In the first year after diagnosis, individuals with cancer had a 1.17-fold increase in rates of nonfatal self-injury (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.03–1.33) compared with matched controls, after accounting for pre-existing differences in rates of nonfatal self-injury and other clinical characteristics between the groups. Rates of nonfatal self-injury remained elevated in the cancer group by 1.07-fold for up to 5 years after diagnosis (95% CI 0.95–1.21).

Interpretation — In this study, incidence of nonfatal self-injury was higher among individuals diagnosed with cancer, with the greatest impact observed in the first year after diagnosis. This work highlights the need for robust and accessible psychosocial oncology programs to support mental health along the cancer journey.



Nguyen L, Hallet J, Eskander A, Chan WC, Noel CW, Mahar A, Sutradhar R; on behalf of the Enhanced Supportive Psycho-oncology Canadian Care (ESPOC) Group. CMAJ Open. 2023; 11(2):E291-7. Epub 2023 Apr 4.

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