Scanxiety is Real! 8 Ideas for Coping with the Stress of Scan Time

Scanxiety is Real! 8 Ideas for Coping with the Stress of Scan Time

A study published last year confirms what all of us already know: scanxiety is real for lung cancer patients, and it negatively affects our quality of life. You know it and I do, too, because right now, as I write these words, I have it.

I go to Roswell Park Cancer Institute for scans next week, and I am far from being as cool as a cucumber about it. I’ve gotten much better about relaxing and enjoying life between scans, but that has not lessened the tension that builds as scan day nears. Maybe this time I am more anxious than usual, because after a year on Tagrisso, every scan is more likely to bring the news that my miracle drug is no longer working for me.

Scanxiety isn’t something that lessens with time and repetition, either. It can actually grow worse over time. In the study referenced below, Dr. Baumi used a rating scale that was designed for measuring PTSD; yes, people with scanxiety are dealing with a physical and emotional state also felt by veterans of combat and victims of violence. Among my friends with lung cancer, only a few report that they have been able find a way to tame scanxiety.

Somehow we have to get through the days, both before having our scans and while we are waiting for the results, and our mental and physical health are going to be better if we can find ways to cope. Here are some ideas I have observed myself and others using to deal with scanxiety.

1. Distract Yourself. This is the perfect time to sit down with a gripping novel that you have been meaning to read. Binge-watch several episodes of a favorite television series. Spend time on your hobbies; I’m making rapid progress on a sweater that I am knitting for my daughter, because having yarn and needles in my hands is guaranteed to soothe me.

2. Let Someone Pamper You. What better time could there be to get a massage or to get your nails done? The idea is to relax and let someone else take care of you for a little while.

3. Take Care of Business. Keep yourself focused on other important parts of your life. Balance your checkbook and pay the bills, clean the bathroom, vacuum the living room. This is another form of distraction, and you have a clean house as a result.

4. Embrace Your Faith. Some friends who seem to be more calm at scan time have a deep faith. A phrase they often use is, “I’m leaving it in God’s hands”. I don’t have that kind of faith, but I do try to meditate daily and scan time is a bad time for me to blow off my practice.

5. Admit that It’s Happening. The other day, I found myself very irritable and grouchy, unfairly snapping at my husband. When I admitted to myself that scanxiety was settling in, we talked and I was able to dial down the grouchiness. Keep in mind that while you are having scanxiety, your loved ones are feeling it as well. A good talk and a long hug may help both of you feel less anxious.

6. Take Good Care of Yourself. Keep to a normal meal schedule and make sure you get enough sleep, even if you need a little help to do so. Hunger and exhaustion will not help you cope, in fact they will make your negative frame of mind even worse.

7. Take a Chill Pill. If nothing else works and your scanxiety is overwhelming your ability to cope, ask your doctor to prescribe a small quantity of an anti-anxiety medication. Sometimes we need a little help, and a wee bit of Xanax might untie that knot in your stomach.

8. Have a Plan. This is important for me. Every appointment with my doctor includes a discussion about what my best next line of treatment probably is, and I keep that in mind when I find myself starting to spin worst case scenarios in my mind. I may not be thrilled about what that next line of treatment probably is, but I do feel more prepared to move on if I have to, and that helps me convert scanxiety to determination.

These are my ideas for coping with scanxiety. Are you troubled with scanxiety as well? What has helped you cope?

Reference: Scan-associated distress in lung cancer: Quantifying the impact of “scanxiety”.

Pixabay image by LoganArt under CC0 Public Domain

18 Replies

  • Awesome advice! My husband goes in on Tuesday the 21st after 8 chemo treatments and 33 radiations. He's taking it so much better than I. He keeps reminding me it's in Gods hands & if it's his will.......I, on the other hand have been binge watching & knitting wash cloths. I am so thankful I found this site it has helped me tremendously!!! Just having others to talk to going thru the same things has really been a blessing. Praying for ALL fighting this disease & especially my dear sweet husband of 35 years. May God Bless all!! 🙏🏻

  • Jenni, best hopes for your husband! It's nice to have three strategies validated by your reply.


  • I will keep u all in my prayers God bless.

  • Beautifully said. Prayers for a good report.

  • Thanks. The fact that I was able to shovel snow for two hours yesterday afternoon and feel good at the end of the day leads me to actually feel a glimmer of hope that this time the news will not be bad.


  • Wow! Your stamina is much better than mine. Keeping my fingers crossed for you.


  • Anita, wonderful advice and information, thank you so very much. Will be holding you close in my thoughts and heart...truly will be anxiously waiting to hear. Big hugs.

  • Thanks, Peggy. I will be sure to share the news.


  • have a plan? This is ridiculous, when DRs have no idea, absolutely none whatsoever what to do next how could think of any plan? The plan should be an immunotherapy of course which cost a bloody fortune, normal people don't have that kind of money. So what plan are we talking about??? Robbing a bank or what?

  • Vivi6121, I'm sorry that your choices are so murky and that you don't have financial support for immunotherapy. Also if my words seemed flip or unhelpful.


  • no need to be sorry, this is just the fact. My husband has small cell LC, and all the miracle immunothrapies are for small cell. People with non small cell are basically discriminated and while nivolumaba and all the other immunotherapies are available for SCLC for free, people with NSCLC have to pay for it. And how much, about $5000 / dose, that's every 3 weeks! how long? till your money last!!!!! If you have any at all. So yes, it is outrages, and this is what we hear every time from onco. Makes you pretty mad! This is not your fault, so really no need to be sorry, those who should be is MERC and BMS, and the government which doesn't make it available on medicare! Disgusting really! I have been researching for quite some time and I am fully aware what the Gov. and the pharmaceutical companies do together. Medical terrorists!

  • Scifiknitter,

    Thank you for your helpful suggestions. I often say that cancer is not just a physical challenge, it is also a mental challenge. I'm having Scanxiety as I write with an upcoming scan. Fortunately, I have a lot of distractions. Hoping you are able to stay on Tagrisso.


  • Nice to see you here! Fingers crossed for you.

  • Anita,

    Nice to see you here too.


  • I like that title,because the situation,and emotions, are very real. As I hit my second year in treatment, I've been using many of the coping skills you listed. One can only live in crisis level for so long. Once you come to realize that you're going to be here awhile still. And that your best option is to start taking care of yourself again. That your quality of life improves dramatically. You know your status. You're not in denial. You just decide to make the best of the time you have left.

  • Yeah, I go in next Tuesday for a CT Scan. I hate those dang things. Hopefully my cancer is still in remission.

  • Fingers crossed for you!

  • Thanks bunches. These are always grueling.

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