Scanxiety: How to Keep it from Derailing Your Next Cancer Scan

Scanxiety: How to Keep it from Derailing Your Next Cancer Scan

Physicians who work with cancer patients have coined a term for what they have come to recognize as a common and impactful part of the patient experience: “Scanxiety.”

In broad terms, scanxiety is the stressful basket of emotions that can affect patients in connection with cancer scans, and the uncertainties and fears that may accompany them. It affects both patients who are actively receiving treatment and patients in follow-up care. It can spring up when a scan appointment is calendared, while the scan is being performed, or while waiting for the results.

It’s easy to understand why scans can create a special kind of anxiety when you consider the ways that cancer, and the experience of the imaging technologies themselves – like having to lay still inside a tight space to get an MRI, or having to drink a foul-tasting liquid prep – can cause people to feel vulnerable, depressed and out of control. They may also develop physical symptoms associated with anxiety, such as headaches, heart palpitations, chest pain, increased blood pressure, breathing problems, upset stomach and fatigue.

Coping with scanxiety during cancer treatment is difficult enough. Add to that an uncertain public health and economic environment due to the COVID-19 crisis, and a real concern emerges. “It’s entirely normal to be anxious,” said Tingting Tan, M.D., Ph.D., a medical oncologist who specializes in thoracic cancers at City of Hope Newport Beach, “but scanxiety left unmitigated may contribute to a cancer patient stopping or postponing important care. It is a situation where proactive stress reduction can make a meaningful difference in keeping a patient on course.”

4 ways to reduce scanxiety

Try one or more of these coping mechanisms to reduce the burden and restore a sense of control when dealing with scanxiety:

  1. Identify the most distressing aspects of the scans. Is it waiting for your appointment, actually having the scans, or knowing that the results are in but you don’t know what they are? Be aware of when you’re going to be most nervous, and ask your physician for advice.
  2. Surround yourself with people who understand. Stay engaged with supportive, reassuring people who “get” you and can put you at ease – like the Komen Orange County community. Not only do you have the opportunity to interact with women who have experienced what you’re going through, but you also call the Susan G. Komen national hotline (1-877-GO-KOMEN) to find local resources and more.
  3. Employ distraction techniques that work for you. Do you have a favorite way to relax, such as mindfulness exercises, having a conversation with a friend or family member, or listening to soothing music? Visit the City of Hope YouTube channel and try our guided imagery meditations and deep breathing videos.
  4. Make a plan with your care team. Do you need to minimize the time spent in the waiting room to keep your anxiety level from rising? Who is going to give you the results? Will it be a call, an email, an office visit? Will you want to bring someone with you? Will you set yourself coping tasks to deal with the period between when you know the results have arrived and when you learn what they are and what they mean?

Having scans to check on a cancer is an important part of the care plan; don’t let scanxiety dampen your spirits. People use different coping strategies, but finding a healthy, constructive technique for scanxiety that’s right for you isn’t a job you have to take on alone. Your physician, family and friends are among your best resources for advice and encouragement.

City of Hope Newport Beach is here to help keep your treatment moving according to plan, and we’re doing everything necessary to ensure a safe in-person visit when you come to see us. Learn more about our COVID-19 protective measures and policies. To make an appointment with a physician at City of Hope Newport Beach, please call (949) 763-2204. For more information, please visit