When you’re feeling fearful or worried about cancer testing, these strategies can help you cope.
Living with any cancer diagnosis means you’ll need to undergo regular tests and scans to monitor your condition.
These situations can cause emotional unease, leaving you feeling increasingly anxious before, during, or after a scan or follow-up test.
While these feelings are normal, there are steps you can take to manage them.
The term “scanxiety” refers to the specific type of anxiety that occurs in the days surrounding these scans or tests for cancer.
There are many reasons you may feel anxiety around these events. You may:
- be prone to focusing on the worst-case outcome or worry about the unknown
- be unable to think about anything but the calendar date of your next scan
- find the actual test or scan uncomfortable
- feel anxious waiting for your doctor to share your results, which may take a few days
In some cases, scanxiety can be so severe that people will reschedule scans or tests, or cancel appointments with their doctor to avoid this intense fear.
However, these tests and scans are needed to measure your condition. So recognizing when scanxiety is happening and taking steps to manage it can help put you at ease.
Scanxiety can impact you in various ways, leading to:
- persistent worrisome or fearful thoughts
- trouble focusing
- mood changes
- sleep disturbances
- lack of appetite
- increased heart rate
- elevated blood pressure
- disinterest in hobbies or other usual activities
Talk with your healthcare professional if you start to notice these symptoms impacting your day-to-day life leading up to scans.
Even though scanxiety is normal, there’s still steps you can take to help manage it. Experiment with these coping methods to find what works best for you.
Talk with a professional
You may be unable to calm your anxiety on your own. If so, seek out a professional to help you through these emotions.
These professionals include:
- licensed social workers
It may be useful to find someone who works with people who have cancer to make the experience truly beneficial.
You may find that your “scanxiety” is just one aspect of anxiety or other elevated emotions you experience as you navigate cancer.
A mental health professional can recommend treatments that help with conditions like anxiety or depression.
Remember that results help target treatment
You may find it useful to reframe the reason that you need to undergo anxiety-inducing tests and scans.
For example, if your first thought is, “This scan is going to be so unpleasant,” try to adjust this to, “The results will help me and my medical team make informed decisions about my treatment,” or “I might find out my treatment is slowing the progression of my cancer,” or “I might need a different treatment to help me feel better.”
Remember: The test results will help you and your medical team make informed treatment decisions.
Come prepared to your appointment
There are a few ways to make your appointments less worrisome. Distract yourself while you wait for the test or scan with:
- a good book
- a favorite game on your smartphone
- pleasurable music
Also, consider bringing a close friend or family member to sit with you during the scan. They can listen to and write down any instructions you receive on the day of your appointment.
Practice relaxation techniques
Many practices can help you relax and ease your anxiety. Meditation, breathing exercises, and listening to calming music may help your emotional state.
Meditation is the practice of slowing down and focusing on the present moment, your body, a single thought, or a mantra. Meditation may take practice.
You can learn how to meditate from:
- a professional
- written resources
- online resources
- an application on your smartphone
Meditating may help you:
- eliminate your stress
- manage your overall mood
Yoga and tai chi combine breathing practices with slow movements to calm your emotional state and get some exercise in.
You may want to take a yoga or tai chi class taught by a professional instructor as you begin your practice. There are many apps and videos available online, too, if you’d prefer to practice at home.
Listening to music can also calm you. Make a playlist, play an album, or flip on a radio station that features music that you like.
You can rely on this for comfort when you’re:
- traveling to a medical facility for the test or scan
- sitting in a medical office
- waiting for results
Like learning to ride a bike or play a musical instrument, learning how to deeply relax takes practice and repetition.
Instead of only trying to meditate or use deep breathing on the days of your tests or scans, set aside some time every day to practice for 5–10 minutes. Then, on the day of your scan, you should find that you are better able to relax than if you hadn’t practiced.
It usually takes someone about 2–3 weeks to get “good” at relaxation.
Practicing mindfulness meditation may help you relax during the scan itself.
Before each scan, ask the radiologist if deep breathing practices are doable. During certain scans, any type of small movement may affect test results.
Once you have the green light, get started with these steps:
- Close your eyes.
- Think about your favorite peaceful place.
- Take deep, slow breaths, focusing on your breathing.
- Relax each part of your body, moving slowly from head to toe.
- Notice how your body feels.
- If you get distracted, slowly guide your attention back to your breath, and start again.
Be with loved ones before and after the appointment
Connect with friends and family as your appointments for your tests and scans approach. Talk through your emotions or schedule something fun. This can distract you from your worries and help combat anxiety.
You may find a few phone check-ins or a meal out with someone makes you feel better. Keep in touch with several people to stay connected and share your thoughts.
Think about finding a support group
You may find it beneficial to connect with others who have cancer to share your feelings. Support groups can be helpful to talk about emotions like anxiety in an open and caring environment.
You may even find people with similar experiences to yours who can share helpful advice about particular tests, scans, and treatments.
You can participate in in-person support groups that are local to you. Another way to connect is through an online support group.
Scanxiety is normal when you have cancer. But there are steps you can take to manage it. Try methods like meditation and yoga on your own. Or, you can seek various forms of support to share your thoughts, feel less alone, and ease your mind.