It is common to feel anxious during medical tests and even while waiting for the results.
When it comes to cancer screening, diagnostic tests and follow-up scans, scanxiety may be intense.
What is scanxiety?
Scanxiety is a feeling of worry and uneasiness experienced by a patient before undergoing a scan or receiving its results.
Scanning during cancer treatment
Scanning is an integral part of the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. From the first diagnosis, scanning is done at every stage, whether to know if the tumor has shrunk or disappeared or recurred.
Many patients experience intense scanxiety that may impact their quality of life. Anxiety or stress can begin even weeks before a scan. He may have trouble eating and sleeping or seem preoccupied with intrusive thoughts. The common symptoms in patients before the scan are increased heart rate, irritability, sweaty palms and nausea.
Reason for scanxiety
One principal reason this fear is so common in cancer patients is that they have already experienced negative results from the scans. Such terrible memories fuel feelings of insecurity and intensify the fear and anxiety about the following scan and its effects.
Following are some ways to cope with the emotional trauma related to scans. Try them and find the one that suits you.
Maintain a routine
During cancer treatment, many things are not in our control. And when life feels out of control, we often feel anxious and overwhelmed.
One way to take back control is through your routine. Maintain a routine. Eat regularly, make time for physical activity, and reach out to friends and family.
Prepare for your medical tests
The most challenging part of scanxiety is the unknown. Do some research on what to expect during your scan or test. Learning how to prepare can make the process go more smoothly.
For instance, if you’re getting a mammogram, wearing a two-piece outfit means you won’t have to disrobe completely. And getting all the facts on colonoscopy prep means you are less likely to have to repeat the test.
Rather than focusing on your upcoming tests or the unknown results, set small, achievable goals that you can accomplish in an hour or a day. Completing a bigger goal requires a lot of energy and focus, and when you’re feeling stressed out, you don’t have that kind of energy. But small, doable goals can be a good distraction from anxiety and worry and give you a sense that you still have some control. You can set a goal to walk for 15 minutes around your neighborhood or write for 20 minutes each day.
Stop thinking of the past results
Thinking about an upcoming scan can bring difficult or painful memories from past sessions, which could weigh upon your current state of mind. Trying to predict the following scan results or thinking about losing current treatment options will only make it worse. It is better to avoid such thoughts and keep your mind engaged with the things you like. Have a conversation with a loved one, read a book, or take a walk while you are waiting for the scan or the scan results.
Everyone responds and adapts to stress differently. Some may become irritable or withdraw from family and friends, while others may experience insomnia or loss of appetite. Hence, acknowledging and accepting the situation can change your experience instead of fighting back with your reactions. It is also better to analyze yourself and identify the triggers or trends related to the onset of the symptoms. This helps to develop an effective coping mechanism that best suits you and addresses your scanxiety symptoms better.
Plan in advance
Many scans are pre-scheduled and occur at specific intervals throughout the year. This allows you to plan and prepare your mind in advance. It also helps to identify which parts of the process make you more anxious and develop strategies to combat it well. For instance, shifting an appointment to the morning slot may help if you usually build up a lot of anxiety while waiting for an afternoon slot. There is nothing wrong with asking a friend to join you to prevent you from overthinking while waiting for your turn. Consulting a counselor can help you manage scanxiety between the scans and follow-up appointments. Being aware of your work in advance also helps to mitigate your worry to some extent about the results.
Try a relaxation technique
It is essential to find ways of relaxing that work for you. Try meditation or some low-impact exercise. This can help you to stay in the present and feel more in control. You may even be able to use breathing exercises during the test. For people prone to anxiety, it is essential to learn and practice any routine that provides peace to them. Research also says that yoga and meditation help to create mindfulness and give stability to withstand critical situations.
Scanxiety is for real, not a mere emotional situation. It needs to be addressed and appropriately managed to prevent its undesirable effects on health. As a cancer patient, you need to understand that you cannot avoid it altogether. Hence, learning to cope with scanxiety and finding ways to manage it well may help improve your quality of life.
Discuss with your doctor
Discuss with your oncologist
Your treating oncologist could be the best person to help you, as they are more aware of your current condition and have experience working with other patients who face the same situation. Meeting your oncologist and sharing your feelings with them may help you express yourself and receive proper advice regarding coping techniques. They can also connect you with a team of professionals or counselors, who can help you better manage your emotions.
Resort to distractions
As discussed earlier, scanxiety related stress may induce body responses like increased heart rate or heavy breathing. Distracting yourself from the stress helps to avoid such symptoms. Engage in activities that demand your complete focus, such as knitting, painting, listening to music and meditation or anything else that interests you. Removing your focus from the upcoming scan can significantly impact your stress.
Speak out and share with close friends
It is good to express your feelings instead of bottling them up. Social connections help to relieve stress and anxiety. Identify a trusted friend you can rely on during your weakest moments. Calling a friend who will listen to you could provide immense relief. Talking to your family and friends may help you de-stress.
Join a support group
Support groups are a blend of emotional, social, and educational support designed to share your feelings and experience, making you feel better and hopeful. Joining a support group and talking to people facing similar issues could be of great help.
If required, consult a psychiatrist or therapist to help the patient deal with their emotional and mental problems.
Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation may worsen your stress and anxiety. It may also suppress the immune system and affect your threshold for fear or worry. Ample sleep every night can rejuvenate the body’s cells and tissues.
It is good to get at least eight to nine hours of sleep each night, especially when your scan is only a few days away. Making a bedtime routine may help in forming a better sleep pattern. Having a warm bath, reading books, and meditating are some ways that reduce stress and ensure sound sleep.
The fear of a cancer diagnosis or recurrence can be overwhelming. You may not feel like you can cope. But consider challenges you have faced in the past and what helped you through them. Remind yourself of your strengths and how you have faced adversity at other times in your life. Assure yourself that you can handle what is ahead and educate yourself about the resources available for support.