Scanxiety: (scan + anxiety) word used to describe the experience of heightened anxiety and distress both immediately before and after a scheduled scan.
Source: Handbook of Oncology Social Work: Psychosocial Care for People with Cancer. Oxford University Press, 2015

Ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans and other radiology services are often used to help diagnose and to treat bowel cancer.

These routine tests can create distress for a range of reasons, including claustrophobia, concern about radiation exposure, or fear that the results will bring bad news.

Even waiting for the scans can be stressful.

Although the word doesn’t yet appear in the dictionary, scanxiety is a very real and rational feeling experienced by some cancer patients prior to and following scans, as part of their disease surveillance.

The physical symptoms of scanxiety mirror those of anxiety and can include muscle tension, diarrhoea, palpitations and sweating. Changes to sleep pattern, mood and appetite may also result.

When you’re worried and anxious about something like scan results, it can be difficult to focus on anything else, so we’ve collated ten helpful tips from patients and health professionals for reducing scanxiety.

1. Ask yourself what is at the root of your anxiety.

Is it a fear of the unknown, is it a fear of enclosed spaces or are you concerned your doctor may tell you your cancer has returned?
Talk to someone or write about it in order to figure out what is causing the stress.

2. Find out why the scan (or test) is needed.

People often fear they are having it because something is wrong.

Certain tests may be done routinely but this might not have been explained to you.

3. Find out what the test involves – knowing what will happen may help reduce fear as you have more understanding of what to expect.

Have you ever had a scan before – do you know what to expect?

4. Acknowledge that you are feeling anxious.

Sometimes just acknowledging and validating how you are feeling can help.

5. Ask yourself what the worst thing is that can happen and make a plan.
It’s not fun to think about but creating a plan can give you at least a small sense of control which can ease the mind.

6. Control what you can by finding out how and when you will get your results.

For many patients, it’s the waiting for results rather than the scan itself that causes the most anxiety.

Worse still can be turning up for an appointment expecting results only to be told they are not ready.

To avoid this, find out if there’s a chance your results won’t be ready when you are expecting them.

Your specialist may want to share the results with you in person and some tests may take a couple of days to get results.

Talking to your doctor and knowing when and how you will get your results can help relieve any added stress.

Don’t assume something is wrong if the results aren’t ready when you expect. They may be delayed due to a written report that accompanies the scan not being ready, or for another simple reason.
7. Decide if you want someone with you for the scan results or not.

Some people find it important to have a partner, family member or friend with them while others prefer to receive any news on their own.

8. Exercise

You don’t have to run a marathon but do something to get your body moving and your blood flowing.

9. Shift your thinking

Relaxation, visualisation and meditation are all great ways to reduce stress and tension while relaxing the mind and body.

You can use them separately or together to help improve your overall wellbeing.

Focusing on your breathing and bringing your mind’s attention to the present, without drifting into concerns about the past or future, has been shown in research studies to do wonders for relieving anxiety.

When beginning to feel anxious, take five deep breaths to help you focus on the present, calm your nerves and lower your blood pressure.

10. Get support
Find out who can discuss the results or your scan or test with you – this could be your Bowel Care Nurse, specialist, or GP.

You can also call the Bowel Cancer Australia Helpline and speak with one of our Bowel Care Nurses on 1800 555 494 for information or just to talk.

Another great form of support is available through our Peer-to-Peer Support Network. Bowel Cancer Australia Peers are bowel cancer patients, survivors, carers, family and friends with a lived-experience and genuine compassion.

They know what it’s like for the newly diagnosed because they’ve been there too. The service is also available to loved ones who are looking to be matched with someone who has been through a similar experience.

Remember, no one should face bowel cancer alone.