Scan and Test Anxiety: A Guide for the Newcomer
You were treated for localized cancer just last year. Your routine follow-up
is next week. You're consumed with dread over the possibility you've relapsed.
You can't concentrate, you can't sleep, and even your appetite is off. You
wonder if it will ever get better. Does that sound like you? If so, read on!
(And if not, congratulations!)
First you are not alone. Scan anxiety is a very common problem (and it's
been a problem for me). In my experience, including both my personal
experience, and listening to other people facing this, it really does get
better over time. I haven't found any quick fix for scan anxiety, but I hope
the following thoughts will help the process along.
- Expect it to Get Easier: Each time you get the all clear, that's
positive reinforcement that you're OK. If you're like me, you're positively
euphoric! Over time you will automatically learn to anticipate the good news
which will make it easier.
- The Chance of a Recurrence on any One Scan is Relatively Low: If you
have some chance of a recurrence over the next few years, even if it does
happen sometime in that period, the chance it is detected on any one scan is
divided up among all the scans during these years. That means the chance you're
going to be OK this time is high to very high - even if the risk of
recurrence is significant.
- The Risk of Recurrence Goes Down Over Time: For most people the risk
of recurrence actually declines over time. The longer you have gone without a
recurrence the less likely you are to ever have one. Some people, especially
those who've been told they face a high risk of recurrence figure that if they
haven't had one yet, they are more and more likely to. In fact, exactly the
opposite is true in almost all cases! As time goes one they are more and more
likely to be one of the ones who don't relapse.
- Some People are Helped by Relaxation or Visualization: This doesn't
work for me, but does work for some, and it might work for you. If you want to
give it a try, have a look at tapes and books from Bernie Siegel or O. Carl Simonton (Note that I haven't
heard tapes from these sources for many years). You might also find it helpful
to immerse yourself in an absorbing task around scan time - either at home or
on the job.
- Be Prepared for Radiology Nits: Sometimes the radiologist who reads
your scan will pick up something which either needs further investigation, or
further follow-up. They may also report things which they think are almost
certainly not cancer. A radiologist's job includes picking up the remote
possibilities as well as anything obvious. Preferring to err on the side of
caution, they report everything they see. You can almost expect this to happen
at least once over the years, so it's good to be prepared. Very often it's
something they don't think is likely to actually be a recurrence. If something
shows up on your scan you can get an idea of how likely it is to be serious
when you talk to the doctor. Often your doctor will order additional tests or a
shorter time till the next scan. This still doesn't necessarily mean it's
likely to be a recurrence! If you read the scan report yourself you might find
things your doctor hadn't mentioned or things they will discuss. My advice:
If possible, don't look at the report before your doctor's appointment even if
you can. Instead go over it with your doctor at your appointment and get your
Finally, if your anxiety is severe all the time, not just around scan time,
or if it's truly incapacitating, you should definitely talk to your doctor
about getting professional help!
This CancerGuide Page By
Steve Dunn. © Steve Dunn
Page Created: July 3, 2002,
Last Updated: August 14, 2002