Methods to Address Scanxiety or Anxiety During Cancer Scans

“Scanxiety” is the phenomenon that occurs when a patient is diagnosed with cancer, and it manifests through anxiety regarding cancer scans. The fear of not knowing the results of the scan or whether they are accurate leads to intense feelings of fear and anxiety.

The scans can take any form, including X-rays, MRIs, CTs, CAT scans, or ultrasound scans. This anxiety doesn’t simply disappear after a scan’s results arrive, and it doesn’t necessarily occur during or after the scan. It can appear a long time before the scan is underwent.

This scanxiety can severely impact a patient’s mental and physical health, leading to a decreased quality of life. However, with the right support and medical care, scanxiety can be alleviated and managed accordingly.

How Does Scanxiety Impact Patients?

One study found that approximately 55% cancer patients experience scanxiety at least once. Apparently, it’s much more common than we’d originally thought. This form of anxiety typically manifests through:

  1. Anxiety – Patients are exceedingly wary of a scan and they feel vulnerable during the procedure.
  2. Distress – Caused by anxiety, sadness, or emotional/social/spiritual/physical pain, distress is the fear of a cancer diagnosis. Typically, it manifests when the patient is inside a CT scan machine and begins worrying about the results or any follow-up checks

More importantly, scanxiety has been found to affect the brain’s normal functioning, leading to physical changes in the brain because of the mental distress. The shrinkage of the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, is one of the potential changes to the brain.

Because of anxiety, the connection between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex can weaken, leading to weaker cognitive control, decision-making, emotional stability, and memory permanence.

Most Common Scanxiety Triggers and Ways to Manage It

There are several triggers for scanxiety, including:

  • Scanning Equipment: X-ray, MRI, CT/CAT scans can all be anxiety-inducing due to how many are performed each year
  • Psychological Triggers: The fear of cancer reoccurrence or occurrence after a scan can trigger scanxiety. This can even evolve into severe mental illnesses if left untreated

The possibility of getting further tests or the wait for scan results can be quite upsetting and induce a variety of unpleasant feelings. Although managing scanxiety might be difficult, there are a number of useful strategies:

  1. Communication

Empathetic communication is one of the best ways to address and alleviate scanxiety. This can be another family member, a friend, or even a primary care provider that can listen to you and comfort you. There are also cancer support groups that offer a safe space where you can share your experiences.

  1. Find Confidence

Confidence is one of the strongest pillars of support in times of need. Given the unknown factors involved in scanxiety, a simple research into the scanning process, potential outcomes and future support might help you find confidence again. This will reduce your fear and give you a sense of control over your situation.

  1. Build a Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy diet and exercising can significantly change your life for the better. Through exercise, your body releases endorphins which will decrease feelings of anxiety and fear. It doesn’t have to be intense exercise either. Walking or even stretching will help release endorphins. And remember to eat healthy as well – chicken, nuts, oranges, beans, etc.!

  1. Maintain a Routine

The worst thing about a cancer diagnosis is the feeling of losing control over your life. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution for this – a routine. Building and maintaining a routine can give your life meaning and a sense of structure. This will let you retake control and reduce your anxiety over time.

The truth is that scanxiety is potentially a crippling issue that affects many cancer patients. However, it’s important to know that there are strategies that effectively address it.

Social support, a healthy lifestyle, having a routine, self-confidence, all of these can combat scanxiety effectively. Patients will be able to cope with the stress of scans and cancer treatment through these methods.

For more information on scanxiety, call Primary Medical Care Center at (305) 751-1500!