Overcoming ‘Scanxiety’: 5 Tips to Keep Your Wits for Your Next Breast Scan

Even though you won’t find the word in any dictionary — yet — scanxiety is real. Just ask any breast cancer patient. Scanxiety is the anxiety you feel when your next scan — mammography, ultrasound, PET scan or other major test — approaches. You’re nervous, restless and tense, your heart is pounding and you may have trouble sleeping or eating. You’re constantly worried about what the test will find.

These tests can determine if your cancer is in remission or if you still need additional treatment. For some, the scanxiety over these tests can start days, weeks and even months before the actual test occurs and continue while you take and wait for the results. And even those who have received good news from scans in the past still suffer from scanxiety leading up to their next one, hoping that they will hear those same results again.

There have not been many medical studies done on the impact of scanxiety, but one small study done on lung cancer patients was published in the October 2016 edition of Lung Cancer. It showed that scanxiety can mimic the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including distressing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, insomnia and irritability. The study showed that scanxiety can actually impair your quality of life.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of scanxiety:

  1. Meditation: Whether you do it in a group or by yourself, meditation has been found to settle thoughts and help reduce stress and improve concentration. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several ways that you can meditate:
  • Guided meditation: Led by a teacher, you are guided to conjure mental images that you find relaxing.
  • Mantra meditation: repeating a calming word or phrase that will be used to prevent distracting thoughts from entering your mind.
  • Mindfulness meditation: This is increased awareness and acceptance of living in the present moment. “I took a mindfulness course which I firmly believe kept me from completely going off the rails,” said one triple negative breast cancer patient in an online support group.
  1. Support Groups: Speaking of support groups, there are many in-person and online support groups that you can join to help you get through these difficult times. Your cancer center may have a supportive care department that is staffed with doctors, social workers and psychiatrists or psychologists. Here you can express your concerns about your upcoming scans. Others who may have also experienced the same symptoms can share additional coping mechanisms. Sometimes, just letting it out can help.

There are Facebook groups for breast cancer patients as well as patients with specific conditions, such as Triple Negative Breast Cancer. The best thing about online support groups is that they are available 24/7, so you can let people know what you’re going through even if it’s the middle of the night.

  1. Support System: Often scanxiety gets worse if you feel like you’re going through the tests alone. Will someone be with you when you go to the test or get the results? Having that person to hold or talk to can often reduce scanxiety.
  2. Fun Things: It might sound simple, but distracting yourself with some fun activities may help to reduce your scanxiety. A good book or a good movie, dinner with friends, or a weekend getaway can keep your mind occupied.
  3. Medication: Sometimes, patients need help keeping anxiety under control. Before taking anti-anxiety medication, such as Lorazepam, discuss these options with your physician to find the right one for you.

Most importantly, don’t ignore your scanxiety symptoms. Treating them allows you to live a better quality of life while you’re going through these very important tests.

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