A Debilitating Fear
“Scanxiety;” is a term that many of us on the cancer journey or in the survivorship stage have felt. Even before the name became more commonly used, cancer patients, by the anxiety felt, coined the phrase. However, it is a term that has now only started to be used regularly within the cancer and mental health communities. Might we even say it could one day be a diagnosable anxiety disorder? Perhaps, but that’s not why I am actually writing this. I’m writing this to bring awareness to what “scanxiety” actually is.
The National Library of Medicine explains “scanxiety” as “the distress that occurs before, during, and after cancer-related scans.” (Derry-Vick, et al., 2023) This can be an excruciating experience that can cause an almost haunting state of mind for a cancer patient and/or survivor, especially with the severity of the cancer patient’s treatment. For survivors, it certainly has the potential to bring them back to the world of near-death that they experienced during treatment.
For every person who has survived cancer, that world of near-death is different. For me, it takes me back to my experience with sepsis when I had one white blood cell to fight for my life. My doctors in City of Hope’s ICU told my parents that they had tried everything and that there was nothing more they could do because my body was poisoning itself and my organs were shutting down. When most 16-year-olds were learning how to drive, going on their first date, and enjoying life, I was literally at death’s door. That’s the world I return to, which can be terrifying. It’s why I struggle mightily to go into medical facilities, even to this day.
Since only small sample sizes of cancer patients and survivors have been evaluated, it’s hard to identify an exact percentage of the quantity of those afflicted with scanxiety. However, research has been able to narrow down symptoms.
Research shows that somatic (meaning, related to the body) symptoms of scanxiety include:
- Difficulty sleeping (32%)
- Feelings of dread (29%)
- Poor concentration (26%)
- Irritability (25%)
- Restlessness/Agitation (24%)
Some less quantifiable symptoms include pain, lack of an appetite, and a racing heart, amongst many others. Cancer impacts people of all ages, demographics, and genders, which results in there not being much of a variance from children, women, or men related to those who experience and suffer from scanxiety.
Diminished scanxiety is quantified in several ways:
- Past experience (81%)
- Friendliness of the staff (88%)
- Knowing what to expect for the procedure (81%)
- Familiar location (71%)
- Proximity of time of results (90%)
As with most anxiety-related disorders, and as a person who has counseled those with anxiety, research shows that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most impactful course of treatment for a anxiety-related disorder. (APA, 2016) Through this form of therapy, patients learn how their thoughts are connected to their symptoms. With the guidance of a trained professional, by developing coping strategies, they can learn to change their thought patterns and reduce the episodes of anxiety they experience. It bears mentioning that this is a merely well-thought-out suggestion, as cases of anxiety are very specific to those who suffer from it, which also connects back to the severity of the person’s cancer.
HERE TO SERVE’S ROLE
At Here to Serve, we believe being with people through their entire journey is important. That is why we try to connect with cancer patients at diagnosis. One of the main coping strategies for anxiety is having safe people around you to help talk you through what you might still be going through. We want to be “safe people” and partners for our families.
However, we know that our capabilities only go so far, as do my clinical suggestions. For those reading this, perhaps some of the suggestions could be helpful, but I don’t know your full story, nor do I know you, and that does inform treatment plans and goals. We may not be a counseling center, but we provide patient resources beyond our scope with psychotherapy options for our patient families. If you or anyone you know has been recently diagnosed with cancer, please contact us so we can provide you with the wraparound care and support needed to manage a journey you neither asked for nor imagined you would have to take.
Author: Bryan Quintas, M.S. M.F.T.
Bryan Quintas is a Stage IV childhood cancer survivor. After Battling cancer at 16, he has endured life-long effects from his treatments. Even so, he graduated from USC’s Annenberg School with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. He also holds a Master’s Degree from Fuller Seminary in Clinical Psychology, specifically in Marriage and Family Therapy. He has dedicated his life and career to helping others through life’s challenges.
Information of the Here to Serve website is for educational and informational purposes only. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical guidance.
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Beyond worry: How psychologists help with anxiety disorders. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/disorders#:~:text=A%20form%20of%20psychotherapy%20known,that%20contribute%20to%20their%20anxiety.
- Derry-Vick, H. M., Heathcote, L. C., Glesby, N., Stribling, J., Luebke, M., Epstein, A. S., & Prigerson, H. G. (2023, February 22). Scanxiety among adults with cancer: A scoping review to guide research and interventions. Cancers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10000102/