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What Is Scanxiety?

Lucretia Hurley-Browning, MDiv, MS, Abramson Cancer Center chaplain at Pennsylvania Hospital, discusses ways to cope with "scanxiety."

All patients have complicated relationships with their scans not unlike the hate-love relationships we have with other technologies in our lives. We first learn we have cancer from scans, then learn from them if that cancer has shrunk or disappeared, then learn if it has come back. Scans are like revolving doors, emotional roulette wheels that spin us around for a few days and spit us out 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.
– Excerpt from Scanxiety by Bruce Feiler.

Sometimes a new word appears in our language, and we wonder how we ever got by without it. "Scanxiety" describes the apprehension felt by people with cancer as they wait for their next scan. As author Bruce Feiler notes above, we have good reasons for our scanxiety. The trick is learning how to cope with it.

Tips to Manage "Scanxiety"

Woman getting CT scanAcknowledge your feelings. Give yourself permission to feel scared or angry. You might get short with people. You might be more tearful than usual. You might be someone who shuts down. Just acknowledge what’s going on, take it for what it is and be gentle with yourself.

Join a support group. There are both in-person and online options to fit your schedule and preference. Talking to others who understand what you’re going through can be extremely helpful! Ask your Abramson Cancer Center social worker for a referral or check the Cancer Support Community calendar for upcoming activities.

Distract yourself. Do something you enjoy: Watch TV, read a book or go somewhere fun. Cognitive behaviorists have shown that adding one pleasurable activity per day can have a huge impact on mindset and mood.

Try meditation. Yes, it can sound intimidating. But meditation has proven benefits, and you can use it before, during and after your scans. Remember that meditation is a practice—meaning you won’t do it perfectly the first time (or ever). The point is to practice clearing your mind. Check out Michigan Medicine's free guided imagery audio library.

Take advantage of resources. Try our Mindfulness-based Stress Management Program. Begin a relationship with one of our psychologists, or talk to your providers about anxiety-reducing medications. It’s not a failure to accept assistance, but a show of strength.

Want More Scanxiety Support?

Here are some extended readings/listenings on this topic:

We also hold a Scanxiety Workshop, where we meet as a group to help manage the anticipation and anxiety around scans. The support group occurs on the fourth Wednesday of every month from 10:00 to 11:30 am in the Patient & Family Services Conference Room at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine (1st Floor, South Pavilion).

For more information on the Scanxiety Workshop, please contact Sandy Blackburn, LSW, at 215-662-6968 or view the events calendar.

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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