Written by Meghan Konkol
Scanxiety—a portmanteau of “scan” and “anxiety”—is a common term in the cancer world. It refers to the anxiety cancer patients and survivors experience leading up to a scan to check our bodies for signs of disease regression, progression, or recurrence. Whether we’re currently in active treatment for cancer or we’re fortunate to be living with no evidence of disease, scans can be a truly anxiety-provoking experience.
While we all process the experience in our unique, individual ways, I’ve noticed some patterns in my emotions and behaviors when I have a scan day approaching and I start experiencing scanxiety. Over time, I’ve started to build up a few habits that help me approach scan day with less worry and fear.
Here are some ideas of how to manage scanxiety and take good care of yourself around scan time.
Communicate with your care team
If you have any questions leading up to your scan—like any necessary preparations, why the scan was ordered, what parts of your body will be included in the imaging, or how long you can expect the procedure to take—be sure to speak with your healthcare team at least a few days before your scan, if possible. Going over questions with your provider in advance will help you fully understand what to expect, which may help eliminate some of your worry beforehand.
It can also be helpful to have a clear understanding of when and how you can expect to receive your scan results. Will your doctor call you, and if so, when? Will you receive results on your virtual chart? Will you have an in-person visit with your doctor to review the results? Prepared with this information, you’ll have reasonable expectations of what comes next after the scan.
Take ownership of how you consume information
You’ve probably heard warnings to stay off the internet when it comes to finding information about your individual cancer treatment. Specific questions about your care are best answered by the doctors treating you personally. While many of us spend a lot of time online for work and personal use, remember that you do have control over the information and content you consume. If you find yourself stressed after scrolling social media or opening too many browser tabs into a rabbit hole of information, allow yourself to take a break.
Ultimately, only our doctors will be able to tell us our scan results and what happens next, and no amount of internet scrolling will change that. One thing that has helped me leading up to important scans is to run through various hypothetical scenarios and next steps. It helps me to write out what the possible outcomes of my scan might be, and for each scenario I determine what questions I would want to ask my doctors and any other actions I might want to take based on that result. That way, when I do receive my scan results, I feel a little more prepared to digest the information I receive and get clarification on anything I want to know more about.
Find social support
If you’d like to talk about your experience with peers, you could plan to attend a cancer support group in the time leading up to your scan. It can be immensely helpful to speak with others who understand what you’re going through and make you feel seen and heard. If you prefer to not share your personal experience but find it helpful to socialize, you could participate in other group activities, which might include game nights, art therapy, or yoga practice.
I also find it helpful to communicate about my upcoming scans with friends and family. Oftentimes your loved ones want to help, but are unsure of what to do to support you. You can let them know that you have a scan coming up and that you’d really appreciate them checking in with you beforehand. If you would prefer to not discuss the scan results immediately, you can let your support circle know that you aren’t ready to talk about it yet. Remember that everyone has a different approach to supporting you, so if there are certain actions that are especially helpful or unhelpful for you, let them know.
Take care of your mind and body
While it’s great to have healthy sleep, exercise, and nutrition habits already established, sometimes these can get thrown askew when scanxiety starts creeping in. If you’re overwhelmed with fear and worry, you might not be in the best headspace for taking good care of yourself.
Leading up to scan day, take stock of your routines. Are you sticking to your usual bedtime schedule? Are you staying mindful of how much time you’re spending on your phone or other screens? Exercise—even if it just means going for an extra walk during the day—is a great way to keep your mind occupied, and can also help you get a better night’s sleep. A little extra fresh air and sun can do wonders for my mood. I also enjoy planning out a few meals ahead of scan day to make sure I’m eating food that I enjoy and makes me feel good.
Lastly, give yourself permission to prioritize activities that reduce stress for you—and minimize those that do the opposite. Maybe friends and family could support you by helping out with household chores or errands to free up time for your self-care. Around scan days, you might want to set aside extra time to journal, meditate, practice yoga, make art, or any other activities that help you relax.
Scan day is one of the many challenges we must navigate as cancer patients and survivors. Try out a few of the above approaches to prepare for your upcoming scan, and over time you can create a personalized routine to tackle scan day with as little scanxiety as possible. You’ve got this!
Meghan Konkol (email@example.com) is a freelance writer and French to English translator. Since being diagnosed with stage III triple negative breast cancer at age 32, Meghan has taken an active role in the cancer community to share stories and resources. She strives to support conversations around cancer and empower others to advocate for their own health and well-being.