Tips for Managing Scanxiety

By Guest Writer - March 25, 2019

Awaiting an upcoming scan or test and the results that follow can be an emotional process for cancer patients and survivors. The uncertainties that come with routine screenings may cause individuals to develop anxiety and fear of the outcome—this feeling is called “scanxiety.”

In the days or weeks before a scan, survivors may notice that their anxiety can display itself both emotionally and physically. Scanxiety causes patients to feel as though their well-being revolves around the testing, but there are various ways to overcome this consuming feeling.

Dr. Diane Portman, chair, Department of Supportive Care Medicine at Moffitt Cancer Center.

Dr. Diane Portman, chair of Supportive Care Medicine at Moffitt Cancer Center, provides insight into the pre and post-test nerves.

“Imaging, while one means to gauge disease and guide therapy, is but one part of the patient’s care story. How they are functioning and feeling are other very important dimensions that clinicians pay attention to assess the status of the illness and determine treatments,” says Portman. “Talking about ‘scanxiety’ normalizes an emotion that not only affects patients with cancer, but patients living with other conditions monitored with tests that may visualize impairment as well.”

Various distraction techniques that she recommends include:

  • Games
  • Reading or watching TV
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Positive imagery
  • Maintaining usual rest and sleep patterns
  • Meditation or mindfulness techniques
  • Physical activity as tolerated

In addition to these methods, Portman stresses the importance of relying on family and community engagement. Whether it be through a faith-based activity, support group or another method, it is beneficial for a patient to interact with others and share their thoughts.

Although monitored calming medications may be warranted, it is important to avoid self-directed use of controlled substances or alcohol to manage anxiety.

Portman wrote a  poem about this topic titled Scanxiety. It was published last year by the American Psychological Association’s journal Families, Systems, and Health.

My nights before scans are disrupted by

Ruminations over shattered plans

In fret-filled dreams I am uncomfortable

Inside the machine, positioned with arms extended

In graceless symbolic submission

To unrelieved apprehension and

Vulnerable to verdicts of strangers

Who will scrutinize the geography of my fate

They search for worrisome blots

That highlight unwinding time

But do not show my dread of uncertainty

As images illuminate but fracture solace

By foreshadowing future loss

Peer past the films to see me

Unable to thwart the scanning strife

But still glimmering with hope

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