Navigating Scanxiety: Advice on Coping With Fear of Cancer Scans
Photo by Accuray on Unsplash
Guest Blog Post by Zach Norton of Maven Imaging
Testicular cancer as a diagnosis can be overwhelming on its own. There is so much to process in terms of the disease, procedures, and treatment options.
During this journey, it is possible to feel stress and fear that your cancer might worsen, especially when going for scans and waiting for the results. Even if your cancer is in remission, you regularly follow up with your healthcare provider. This will frequently include testing, such as undergoing body scans to see if the cancer has returned.
That anxious feeling surrounding each medical scan is called scanxiety. While dealing with the tedious process of scans, understanding whether you have scanxiety can help you take the first steps toward coping with this fear.
Acknowledging scanxiety is an integral part of fighting against it. Did you know that only 1 in 3 guys know how to check their testicles? We see all too often the repercussions of not talking about testicular cancer, leading to a lack of awareness and ability to recognize symptoms. This only proves the importance of keeping an open dialogue about scanxiety.
We will look into ways of identifying the signs and give you some advice on managing scanxiety.
What Is Scanxiety?
The stress and worry before a cancer scan, undergoing a scan, or waiting for the results is called scanxiety.
Scans, such as MRI, X-ray, CAT/CT, and ultrasound, can take place at any time during the cancer journey. This can include scanning for a diagnosis, treatment progress, recurrence, and more. The apprehension medical scans bring upon cancer patients can seriously affect daily life.
Since it has not been identified in the DSM-V, scanxiety can seem trivial and go unnoticed. However, it has been documented in clinical literature, especially among those who have advanced health conditions.
A study of over 200 advanced cancer patients recorded almost 55% having scanxiety. Peak anxiety was recorded among patients while they were waiting for their results.
Research has also shown that experiencing anxiety can affect memory and the ability to process information, especially with life-threatening conditions like cancer. While cancer scans are inevitable, identifying your fear can help you find suitable ways of dealing with it.
How Do I Know If I Have Scanxiety?
Scanxiety doesn’t look the same for everyone. However, there are distinct signs which can help you evaluate if you have anxiety related to your scan or its results.
Mental Signs of Scanxiety
Some mental signs of scanxiety include:
- Continuously worrying about the scan throughout the day
- Inability to concentrate on other activities
- Loss of sleep and changes in appetite on days leading up to the scan or results
- Constantly on edge or irritable
- Frequently checking phone or email for a possible change in schedule or test results
Physical Signs of Scanxiety
Scanxiety may also have some physical signs, frequently noted close to your appointment:
- Sweating, especially on your palms and soles
- Racing heart
- Shortness of breath
- Biting nails or gritting your teeth
- Nausea and sometimes even vomiting
- A general sense of uneasiness
With scanxiety, you will notice these feelings taking up most of your day, especially when you are close to a scan appointment. Other factors can also heighten this stress, like calls from insurance companies or loved ones who want to discuss details of the procedures.
Having feelings of anxiety can hamper how you view your results as well. Studies have indicated that those who experience anxiety are less likely to identify disease progress accurately on their scans. This can particularly affect how you process results and select treatment options.
Thus, knowing how to cope with scanxiety is essential, as its symptoms affect many aspects of your life. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, let us examine some simple coping mechanisms to manage cancer-scan anxiety.
How to Cope With Fear of Cancer Scans
If you have testicular cancer or are in remission, undergoing repeated scanning is a part of the treatment and management process. This can lead to persistent feelings of apprehension and worry before, during, and after each scan. Here are a few ways to help you cope with scanxiety:
1. Build a Strong Support Network
Having scanxiety is normal, and it is not something to be ashamed about. Discussing your symptoms with your family or friends can strengthen your support system, helping you overcome your anxiety.
You can also reach out to your community, volunteer, or join forums or a support group with others who experience this similar fear. These initiatives can help foster a sense of hope and validate this fear
2. Acknowledge Your Feelings
Find constructive ways for dealing with scanxiety. Accepting that it exists is an effective first step to finding a solution. Try to set aside some time daily to document the different feelings you experience due to your anxiety. These can include processing thoughts, any actions, or even how it disturbs your day-to-day life.
3. Find Coping Strategies for Your Symptoms
After you recognize and acknowledge your scanxiety symptoms, you will have an easier time finding effective ways to manage them. For one, sweating, palpitations, and shortness of breath are common during moments of anxiety. Focusing on your breathing, especially diaphragmatic breathing, has been shown to improve both physical and psychological symptoms of stress.
4. Create and Follow a Routine
Building routines for your day can prove beneficial in both navigating through stress and dealing with anxiety. Following a routine around scan appointments provides more stability in your life, especially when these appointments interrupt your days.
Consider adding specific times during your day and week to engage in activities such as exercising, meeting up with friends or family, or even joining a class.
5. Take Control of Your Scans
Make steps to take more control of your cancer scanning processes. This will provide you with more leverage over your scanxiety. Some helpful tips to gain more control include:
- Schedule your tests for earlier dates to prevent unnecessary anticipation.
- Ask friends or family to join in if that helps you through the process.
- Plan and go over every step before each scan.
- Talk to the administration and your doctor about how you would like the process to continue in the future to reduce anxiety.
- Request for results in person or by email, based on your preference.
- Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to review the scan results.
6. Talk to a Therapist
If your scanxiety becomes too overwhelming, consider seeking professional help. A therapist can help unravel feelings of anxiety related to the cancer scanning process and provide coping mechanisms and stress management techniques.
Many studies have shown the benefits of psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for anxiety. CBT is a popular and widely used therapeutic method that can help reduce anxiety symptoms by changing negative behaviors, thoughts, and emotions to more positive ones.
The Bottom Line
Scanxiety is scarcely discussed because such feelings can be isolating, especially among cancer patients. It proves to be an additional burden in the cancer journey, making you feel a loss of control over your life. However, scanxiety can be managed once you can identify your specific signs.
Take note of your symptoms and find your best solution for dealing with this fear, even if that means reaching out for professional help. Taking these steps can often feel empowering, validating your anxiety and taking control back in your life in the process.
We thank Zach Norton of Maven Imaging for his contribution.