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Overcoming Scanxiety Today for a Healthier Tomorrow

Publication: Austin Medical Times, Houston Medical Times

What are you afraid of? Snakes and spiders? Being trapped in an elevator? Perhaps it is a fear of the dark or heights.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 12% of people in the United States have had some form of phobia in their lives. When it comes to cancer, many experience scan anxiety, also known as scanxiety, which is defined as a distress or anxiety that may occur before, during, and after cancer-related imaging and scans.

It’s understandable to be apprehensive of cancer screenings and their impending results. But the importance of getting cancer screenings when recommended cannot be overstated because early detection can significantly improve the prognosis and quality of life.

What is “scanxiety”?

In the realm of cancer detection, the term scanxiety has become more than just a buzzword. Having tests and waiting for test results can be unnerving, especially when the outcome can alter the course of your life. Whether scans are being done to confirm a cancer diagnosis, monitor treatment, or check for recurrence, the process of undergoing imaging scans can prompt a host of emotions.

The emotional roller coaster associated with scanxiety is not exclusive to one type of cancer or one type of scan. Mammograms, prostate exams, lung cancer screenings, and colonoscopies are among the various tests that can evoke anxiety.

Physicians have a key role to play in calming scanxiety by acknowledging the fear and working toward breaking down barriers to encourage regular screenings across the spectrum of cancer detection.

Factors That Can Lead to Scanxiety

When scanxiety causes patients to postpone or avoid needed screenings, serious health risks can be the result. Late-stage cancer diagnoses are often associated with more complex treatment plans, reduced chances of successful treatment, and higher healthcare costs.

That’s why it is important to understand the long-term benefits of early screenings and address the source of fears or concerns and to help overcome them. Causes of scanxiety can include:

  • Unknown aspects of the scan/screening
  • Concerns about what the tests will show
  • Long waiting period to receive results
  • The inability to understand test results
  • Fear of how the results could change one’s life

How to Manage Scanxiety

Several strategies can help patients cope with scanxiety and navigate the emotional challenges associated with cancer screenings, such as:

  • Engaging in mindfulness and relaxation techniques
  • Seeking support from friends and family
  • Maintaining open communication with healthcare providers

In addition, by communicating clearly about what the procedure entails and the timeline for results and follow up, physicians can alleviate fears and support patients with the information they need to follow through with getting a screening.

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and Colonoscopies

The observance of colorectal cancer awareness in March is an ideal time to acknowledge and address the scanxiety associated with colonoscopies. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S. among men and women combined and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

Colonoscopies can prevent colorectal cancer through the detection and removal of precancerous growths at an early stage when treatment is usually more successful. For those at average risk, colonoscopies are recommended beginning at age 45. However, people with concerning symptoms (such as rectal bleeding, unintentional weight loss, or changes in bowel habits), inflammatory bowel disease, those with inherited syndromes like Lynch syndrome, and individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps are considered higher risk and should consult with their doctor to determine the appropriate age to begin colorectal cancer screening.

Colonoscopies often have a reputation for being stressful, painful, or embarrassing. This common procedure is usually quick and can be done under different types of anesthesia. The prepahead of the procedure is typically the most difficult part and can be handled in the privacy of the patient’s home.

Scans are an essential part of cancer treatment and survivorship care, so recognizing and managing scanxiety is essential to help patients get the care they need. By appreciating the courage, it takes to get screened, one is already on the path to winning the fight against cancer.

This article originally appeared in the March issue of the Austin Medical Times and Houston Medical Times.