Many cancer patients will recognize the feeling: racing thoughts, sweaty palms, pounding heartbeat. The cause? What is commonly known as “scanxiety,” a nickname for the anxiety a patient feels in the waiting period before and after a medical exam (such as an MRI or CT scan).
Scanxiety can be intense and intrusive, and you might find it difficult to focus on other thoughts or tasks. Many patients, especially those who did not experience anxiety prior to their diagnosis, might feel unequipped to manage this feeling.
The first thing you should know is that you are not alone; scanxiety is a near ubiquitous feeling for most lung cancer patients. It’s important to acknowledge that cancer is a stressful experience and that scanxiety is a perfectly normal reaction to the reminder of cancer.
Our community offers their tips on how they learned to manage their worry and stress about scans.
1. Learn to recognize your symptoms
Learn to recognize your symptoms of scanxiety. Being able to control your physical response to scanxiety might help you manage it.
The physical response and the time period you experience this response will vary by person. These symptoms often start about a week prior to the scan and can last until two weeks after the scan when the results are available and can include racing heart, headaches, stomach pain, sweating, shortness of breath, tense muscles, or negative emotional states such as irritability, anger, or withdrawn behavior.
Often, being able to identify the root of a symptom can help. Simply being able to recognize it for what it is can help ease the stress. Beyond that, there are many techniques that help manage the physical response of anxiety, such as practicing slow deep breathes, writing down your thoughts, and meditation; these can also help with scanxiety.
2. Practice positive self-talk
It’s easy to say to “stay positive,” but hard when many times scanxiety can result in only negative thoughts. Examples of these negative thoughts can range from “I’m afraid” to “Nothing positive is going to come out of this situation.” When you have thoughts such as this, a fix is to translate it to something positive, such as “I’m afraid, but I am brave and will do this” or “I accept that there are things that I cannot change, but at least I will know what they are.”
You can also drown out these negative thoughts all together by focusing on what you can be hopeful for, no matter the results: that the test is done to perfection, the doctors are able to determine clear findings, and from that you and your care team will be able to make the best treatment plan for your condition.
Exercise has been scientifically proven to decrease tension, elevate mood, lessen fatigue, and generally improve quality of life. Even light exercise can release endorphins, which in turn can help improve sleep, stabilize mood, and reduce stress. If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of scanxiety, taking time to do something active can help calm your emotions and stress.
Swimming, walking, and yoga are some of the best ways to exercise for lung cancer patients because they are moderate and low-impact. However, the best form of exercise is one you enjoy; liking an activity ensures you continue to do it. Be sure to take some time to rest between busy, active days.
4. Stay occupied
While the results of the test or scan are important, it’s also crucial that you give yourself a break from thinking about them and your disease. Many people choose to fill their schedule a week before and after exams with chores, errands, and activities. Others choose to make this time special by scheduling activities they enjoy, such as yoga, hiking, or time with friends. Still others choose to get out of their daily lives and travel, especially in the time between the scan and the results.
Whatever activity you choose, keeping yourself busy or enjoying life will leave little time to fixate on the scan or test results.
5. Talk to some who has been in your position
Simply talking about it can be beneficial to managing it too. Realizing that many others have been in the same position as you can help normalize what you are feeling. You may also learn other tips and tricks for managing the feelings from others who have been in your shoes.
A good place to start to find someone to talk to is support groups. Many hospitals, cancer centers, and local community organizations offer them. LUNGevity also offers many programs for those without local support groups. You can join LUNGevity’s LifeLine, a peer-to-peer buddy matching system, where you will get paired with an experienced mentor who has been through what you are going through. You can also call the Lung Cancer HELPLine to talk to a social worker, who can help you manage emotional, financial, and support challenges. LUNGevity also has several online groups in which patients can connect to other lung cancer patients and survivors; check out our Facebook page or Lung Cancer Support Community to learn more.
6. Seek professional help
If your scanxiety feels unmanageable and disrupts 3 weeks of your life every three months, talk to your doctor about other tips and suggestions for how to manage these symptoms. Your doctor might suggest speaking with a professional to get to the root of this anxiety. Many patients have also benefited from anti-anxiety medications that have helped them manage these symptoms. However, these medications are not without side effects, and it is always best to talk to your doctor about the best course of action.