Coping With Scanxiety

Two people holding hands over a sheet of x-rays

The Emotional Aftermath of Cancer Surveillance

It's easy to assume that CT scans, MRIs and X-rays are a painless part of the cancer treatment process. But as scan day approaches, the fear and anxiety about cancer can grow too big to ignore. This common feeling is called scanxiety. And for patients, survivors and family members, the stress can interfere with quality of life.

Is the cancer gone? Has it come back? Is it stable? Each scan represents a milestone in the cancer journey, and waiting on the results can be overwhelming.

Studies have shown that a cancer diagnosis and cancer surveillance can trigger classic feelings of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These symptoms — disturbing thoughts, irritability and fatigue — can affect daily life and cause delays in critical parts of the cancer treatment and post-treatment plan.

Unfortunately, scanxiety may never fully subside. But there are steps to prevent these emotions from taking over your life or affecting the quality of your care. Here is a list of tactics to try:

Acceptance: Accept the fact that these feelings are normal and that it is ok to ask for help. Talk with your medical team about any suggestions or medications to reduce your anxiety about your upcoming scans.

Preparation: Schedule your scans early in the morning to minimize wait time, and ask a friend or loved one to accompany you for support.

Positivity: On the days leading up to your appointment, surround yourself with positive people who put you at ease. Don’t isolate yourself from family and friends. They will lift your spirits and help keep you calm.

Distraction: Start a great book or binge watch a new TV series and get lost in the story. Go someplace fun that you’ve never been or take on a new hobby. Do what you can to keep your mind busy.

Relaxation: Get a massage, meditate or take yoga classes. Deep breathing is a powerful relaxation technique to help you unwind.

Scanxiety may not play a role in your life or it might come and go. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. If you need help coping with scanxiety, please call (716) 845-8022 to schedule an appointment with a member of the Psychosocial Oncology team. Consultations are free and confidential.