Let The Scanaxiety Begin

Scans are an essential part of cancer treatment and survivorship care.

Every 3 months I have a Computed Tomography (CT) scan to assess how well my immunotherapy treatment is going.

The actual scans are painless and are over in minutes but there is a build-up of nerves when a CT is approaching and this then continues until you have the results.

Scans are a fact of life when cancer is in the picture and so is the anxiety that comes with it.

This is part and parcel of the cancer stress and it can be mentally debilitating and destabilising because it leaves you with a heightened sense of vulnerability and powerlessness.

Scan-associated distress is a common problem among patients with cancer and this is associated with impaired quality of life or at least the threat of it.

Scanxiety (n) “scan zi et ee”:  anxiety, fear and worry that accompanies the period of time before undergoing or receiving the results of a medical examination (such as MRI or CT scan).

I’m still waiting for the results of my last CT scan which was over 3 weeks ago now. Obviously in an ideal world I wouldn’t have to wait this long but the pressures of Covid-19 and a significant shortage of radiologists makes waiting a while inevitable.

But during this wait my quality of life is negatively impacted upon because it’s on my mind pretty much all of the time. You just need to know.

As Wendy Harpham says, I, and others, spend our time….”worrying mightily, stuck in a Sartre-esque hell of uncertainty with no exit from the waiting, day after day after day after day. Plagued by anxiety, they may try to forget about their pending test results. But they can’t forget… or sleep… or concentrate.”

The results help me to know what’s going on with my condition and so this is always a tense time. It can be tiring too and it isn’t that long until I’ll need another. I just want to hear the best three letters in the English language: NED –  No Evidence of Disease.

Waiting for results can be scary and incredibly unnerving and it is not uncommon to experience trouble eating or sleeping and yes, scanxiety can make you moody, preoccupied and sometimes feel out of control.

Yet, all this is normal because for those of us in this position we have already lived through receiving news of negative results from earlier scans and so we fear cancer recurrence.

What helps?

A doctor and cancer survivor herself, Wendy Harpham says she found relief in a triad of expectations:

  1. expect any results;
  2. expect the results to help;
  3. expect to accept and deal with whatever results I get.

Wendy says “accept the uncertainty and focus on the benefit of the test results.”

Umm, easier said than done. Anxiety waiting for a scan result is not something you can put to the back of your mind but we all have our own strategies for dealing with it. Research has shown that adaptive coping strategies are often self-derived.

For me, it is to distract myself as much as possible, go for long walks and access plenty of comedy.

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