“Scans are like revolving doors, emotional roulette wheels that spun us around for a few days and spit us out on the other side. Land on red, we’re in for another trip to Cancerland; land on black, we have a few more months of freedom.”
-Bruce Feiler, excerpt from “Scanxiety” in Time Magazine, 2011.1
What Is Scanxiety?
Scanxiety may not be an “official” medical term just yet; however, its use has been on the rise. Both individuals with cancer, and medical professionals in the oncology world have started recognizing the very real, and very powerful phenomenon that is scanxiety. Although it is not dictionary-defined, the working definition of scanxiety is, “cancer patients’ fear and worry associated with imaging, both before and after a test (before the results are revealed).”
Scanxiety can impact the quality of life for individuals battling cancer, as well as lead to disruptions or discontinuations in follow-up care plans. Those diagnosed and treated at the early stages of cancer often experience scanxiety after completion of successful treatments, but during follow-up scans down the road checking to see if the cancer has returned. Individuals with metastatic or late-stage cancer may experience scanxiety when undergoing scans to determine how far their cancer has spread, or if a potentially life-elongating treatment is currently working. These two examples are just some of many that individuals with cancer could encounter when it comes to scanxiety. But regardless of what circumstances lead to your scanxiety, it’s important to know that it is completely normal, and essentially unavoidable. You are not alone!
What Does the Research Show?
Only one study has been published surrounding the idea of scanxiety and its impact. The study centered around 103 individuals with non-small cell lung cancer and determined that scanxiety was a very real emotion, relatable to PTSD. Specifically, the researchers concluded that scanxiety was associated with an impaired quality of life and distress. Further, they concluded that scanxiety affects everyone relatively equally, regardless of time since diagnosis or treatment. This means that scanxiety is not known to be muted over time, and can follow individuals around no matter where they are in the cancer battle.
Scanxiety can be so overwhelming that it prevents individuals from seeking the follow-up care and scans that they need. Many physicians are starting to take notice of this phenomenon, especially ones who have been diagnosed with cancer themselves. Researchers recommend that physicians schedule scans and deliver results in as short of time as possible, in order to help with scanxiety. The worst scanxiety has been known to accompany scans with indeterminate results, or lengthy wait times.
How Do You Cope?
Do you notice you have scanxiety? Or does someone you care for show signs of scanxiety? You are certainly not alone! Share your scanxiety feelings and experiences with us, and let us know how or if you are able to tame it!2-3
Feller, B. Scanxiety. Tima Magazine. June 2, 2011. Available from: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2075133_2075127_2075107,00.html
Mulcahy, Nick. “Cancer ‘scanxiety’ is a real (terrifying) thing.” Medscape. 10 Feb 2017. Available from: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/875634?nlid=112691_2981&src=wnl_dne_170213_mscpedit&uac=259022DR&impID=1289473&faf=1
Bauml JM, et al. “Scan-associated distress in lung cancer: Quantifying the impact of “scanxiety”.” Lung Cancer. Oct 2016. Available from: http://www.lungcancerjournal.info/article/S0169-5002(16)30443-3/abstract