Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work
FEBRUARY 17, 2017
Scanxiety , although it may not be in the dictionary, is a real thing. We all know about it. The process itself isn't pleasant with likely needlesticks and possible GI upset after drinking the pre CT scan milkshake. No one enjoys the tight quarters of an MRI, and the special diet before a PET scan is difficult for some. But it's not these things nor the waits in a hospital johnny or conversations with the techs that are so hard. It is anxiety about the results.
I have been talking the last few weeks with a lovely woman who completed treatment for ovarian cancer about a year ago. She has been experiencing abdominal pain that is likely due to scar tissue (and that is exactly what her surgeon suggested at a recent appointment), but she is terrified because it is in the same general area where the tumor resided. Her surgeon had offered a CT scan to reassure her, but she declined because she is also, of course, afraid of the possible results. She feels completely cornered: lying awake at night in a panic because she fears the cancer has returned, and too afraid to have the scan because those fears might be confirmed.
I know that experience does not really help with this. Even if a series of scans have been reassuring, there is the superstitious feeling that one's luck is about to change. Until the results are in, the anxiety persists. My only advice is to have a clear understanding with your doctor about how you will hear the news. Some people prefer to have the scans a week or so before a scheduled appointment and then wait until then to hear the results. Others want a phone call, whatever the news, as soon as the report is in. Be careful about the phone call plan: that is, be clear that you want to call either way, If you say: "Only call me if the news is good", and then you don't have a call, you have the answer without the information.
Cancer 'Scanxiety' Is a Real (Terrifying) Thing
That's because it negatively affects patients' quality of life, may
undermine follow-up care plans, and can even lead to unnecessary treatment,
according to interviews with physicians and a review of the sparse medical
literature on the subject.
Scanxiety is cancer patients' fear and worry associated with imaging, both before and after a test (before the results are revealed).
In early-stage patients who are successfully treated and have no evidence of disease, the underlying fear is about cancer returning and the dreaded implications. In metastatic patients, the fear is based in scans' potentially revealing a lack of treatment effectiveness or disease progression.
Thus, at either stage of disease, scan results may portend death.