Coping With Scanxiety

Coping With Scanxiety

By Admin at 19 Jul 2016, 10:27 AM

If you’ve had cancer, you’re probably familiar with “scanxiety,” the overwhelming feelings of anxiety that come up when you’re facing a follow-up scan. In the days or weeks leading up to your next follow-up, be it x-ray, CT scan or MRI, you may be consumed with fear and dread.

For some cancer survivors, it becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate as their follow-up appointment draws nearer, and the anxiety may interfere with restful sleep, work and your ability (or desire) to socialize or even carryout normal day-to-day activities.

Up to 22 percent of cancer survivors may also develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and these symptoms may become worse when a follow-up scan is near. Some people may also delay or skip their scans because the surrounding anxiety becomes too intense.

Memorial Sloan Kettering psychiatrist Matthew N. Doolittle explained, “People with more-advanced disease, more pain, or those who have suffered other types of trauma are at greater risk for developing PTSD symptoms during or after treatment.”

It’s completely normal to feel anxious prior to a scan, but it’s important to keep your follow-up appointments as scheduled. Though you may feel like you have no control over the outcome of the scan and your related anxiety, there are steps you can take to help you cope.

Some people find cognitive behavioral therapy to be particularly useful, especially if you find yourself focusing on the “what-ifs” or convincing yourself that you’re going to be a worst-case scenario. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you to redirect and reframe your thoughts in a more positive and less fearful way. For instance, you might consider that:

  • Your risk of recurrence goes down over time. Each time you get a clean scan, your chances of recurrence go dow
  • Your chances of finding a recurrence at any given scan are relatively low, while your chances of being OK may be high
  • Your radiologist may find something, and it may turn out to be nothing. Scan results are not always black and white. Your radiologist may find something that needs further follow-up, but there’s a good chance it will turn out fine.


In addition to reframing your thoughts to be more positive, you can try stress-reduction techniques prior to and during your scan. You might benefit from:

  • Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, self-hypnosis or visualization
  • Listening to music
  • Surrounding yourself with reassuring friends and family members


Practically speaking, try to schedule your appointment for first thing in the morning so you can get it out of the way as well as reduce waiting time. If you’ll be having a biopsy, numbing medicine that can be applied prior to the biopsy may reduce discomfort.

Finally, be sure you have an appointment scheduled with your physician to discuss your follow-up results. Being able to get all of your questions answered is important to relieve anxious feelings. If you find your scanxiety is so severe you can’t function or it occurs all the time (not only in the days leading up to your follow-up) seek help from a professional.

In the video below, Memorial Sloan Kettering breast imaging expert Laura Liberman, offers practical advice to help cancer patients reduce excessive anxiety about imaging tests.


Strategies for Coping with Scanxiety 


Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center January 18, 2013



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