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Do You Have Scanxiety? Here Are Ways To Cope

Posted on July 11, 2023 by Elizabeth Swanson

Whether it’s an MRI, PET or CT scan, getting any type of diagnostic scan can be nerve-wracking. But if you have symptoms like increased heartrate, nausea, irritability or insomnia before a scan, you may be experiencing ‘scanxiety.’  

“People often get scanxiety when they’re coming in for cancer scans,” says James Snyder, D.O., a neuro-oncologist at Henry Ford Health. “It’s a huge stressor, whether it’s for an initial scan or follow-up care after cancer treatment. Your life could change based upon the results. Even people who are five, ten years out from their cancer diagnosis still have anxiety around upcoming tests.”   

How To Manage Scanxiety 

Before a scan, deep breathing exercises can lower cortisol and keep you calm; mindfulness skills can ground you, lessening thoughts of ‘what if.’   

But there are also supportive resources—including people who have been in your shoes before. Imerman Angels is a non-profit that provides free mentorship for those with cancer. Other mentors you can simply find on social media.  

“Some patients are remarkable advocates in the social media sphere,” says Dr. Snyder. “They are patient mentors for those who are newly diagnosed with cancer. Even these mentors still describe the anxiety they feel years later.” 

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Mental health professionals can also be hugely beneficial. They can provide you—and your family members—with coping skills, as loved ones also experience scanxiety. These coping skills can help mitigate feelings of depression, anxiety and stress to improve your quality of life. 

“At Henry Ford Health, our cancer support resources are comprehensive. They are a cornerstone of the care we provide,” says Dr. Synder. “We have psychologists who specialize in cancer, art and music therapy and support groups. These resources are available to patients and their families because it’s really a team effort.” 

Making The Experience Of A Scan Less Daunting

While you may inevitably have fears of what the scan results will show, the experience of getting a scan can also be daunting. “An MRI, for example, involves lots of sounds and time laying down in the machine. You have plenty of time to worry. But a blood test is a quick in and out,” says Dr. Snyder. “There aren’t many cancers we can definitively diagnose with a blood test, but we’re trying to change that through research in an area called ‘liquid biopsy.’ 

“And at our brain tumor center, ongoing research is trying to determine if we can better predict when scans are necessary. We’re trying to optimize scans to a patient’s needs and potentially reduce the number of scans someone might need. We want to reduce the burden and stress of these scans.”  

If you have suggestions as to how the scan experience can be improved, consider joining a patient or family advisory committee. “They help us improve patient care in many ways, including the radiology and imaging experience,” says Dr. Snyder. “For example, we now have music that patients can listen to during some scans. In the brain tumor center, we also see patients right after their scans so they don’t have to wait to talk to their doctor. We’re one of the only hospitals in the country that does this. 

“We know intimately that cancer doesn’t just have physical effects—it’s incredibly challenging for your mental health. That’s why our cancer support services group is striving every day to improve access and resources.” 

Reviewed by Dr. James Snyder, a neurologist who specializes in neuro-oncology at Henry Ford’s Hermelin Brain Tumor Center. He sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Categories : FeelWell

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