Waiting for medical test results as your health seemingly hangs in the balance can take its mental toll, even if you’re someone without a history of anxiety. Whether you’re stressed about the wait itself or you’re nervous about contacting your primary care provider (PCP) to discuss results when they’re available, this part of the process can be a major source of “scanxiety” for people.
It’s natural to feel nervous during this process. Results from imaging tests, biopsies, blood tests and genetic tests can bring varying levels of stress to different people, no matter how severe their condition may be. But there are measures you can take to try and put your mind at ease and move forward to acquire the best care possible.
What is Scanxiety?
Coined by a cancer patient in 2011, scanxiety is most associated with people who have an advanced stage of cancer. There is no specific criteria to describe scanxiety, but it is generally defined as the anxious and apprehensive feelings a person experiences either before, during or after important medical tests. This includes imaging tests, biopsies, blood tests, genetic tests and more.
According to a 2023 study on the term and its meaning, scanxiety is a transitory emotional state. This makes it consistent with the concept of state anxiety, which is an acute form of anxiety experienced in a particular and temporary situation. The uncertainty and fear associated with what the results may reveal is possibly scanxiety’s most common cause, according to patients.
Signs of Scanxiety
Scanxiety can interfere with your daily activities and worsen your quality of life. But you can take steps to manage it by identifying its signs and symptoms, which include:
- Difficulty focusing.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Experiencing a faster heart rate than usual, higher blood pressure than usual, or both.
- Fearful or repeating thoughts.
- Fear that your cancer will spread or return.
- Lack of appetite.
- Mood swings.
- Showing less interest in hobbies and activities than you previously showed.
- Sweaty palms.
Questions to ask your PCP and health care team
Remember, you can lean on your PCP during this stressful time. They are educated and trained to answer your questions. Here are some questions to consider asking:
- How can I prepare my family/children for the test results?
- How long will it take to get the test results back?
- How will we get test results?
- What are the next steps after receiving the test results?
- What support resources are available if we need them?
How to manage and overcome scanxiety
We all worry and cope in different ways. All we can do is try our best to minimize the mental toll our pending scan results take on us. These thoughts and strategies can help.
Learn how you react: Do you experience any of the symptoms listed above? Focus on the way you tend to react to scanxiety, whether it be with sadness, fear, anger or a physical symptom. When you can identify your own personal patterns and recognize your signs of distress, you can then take steps to alleviate them.
Use relaxation techniques: Simple deep breathing exercises can slow your heart rate and ease anxiety. You can also try visualizing a calm, “happy” place, meditating, listening to realizing music, stretching, and doing yoga.
Exercise: Regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. To help manage stress, exercise five days a week, if you don’t already.
Seek family and social support: Reaching out to loved ones can help. They want to see you happy, so the supportive family members and friends in your life will more than likely try and ease your scanxiety worries if you approach them. You may even want to have someone you’re close with by your side when you receive your results.
Acknowledge the anxiety: It can be healthy to set some time aside and focus on your fears. Try setting a time limit of 10 or 15 minutes.
Secure test results as soon as possible: In a 2023 survey of more than 8,000 patients, 96% of those polled preferred receiving immediately released test results online. It’s natural to feel worried about what the results may reveal, but it’s best to rip the bandage off as soon as possible. Purposefully delaying your next step in treatment by avoiding your results can be detrimental to your health. As mentioned, consider having a supportive family member by your side when you view your test results.
Most doctor’s offices offer online portal accounts so you can view the results as soon as they are available. While this is convenient, you should still follow up with your PCP to discuss results, as many people misinterpret results of individual tests and scans. Be sure to call or visit for a thorough discussion before coming to your own conclusion about the diagnosis.
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