Iris Oncology
Navigating Emotions

7 Tips to Minimize Scan Anxiety

Scan Anxiety (or scanxiety) is the worry and distress associated with cancer tests and subsequent results. Scanxiety can arise during any or all phases of the scan process, and it may help to consider which one(s) are causing you distress.  

  • Before: Anxiety and worry in the weeks, days, or hours leading up to scans or testing, and coping with unknowns 

  • During: Worry surrounding the actual scan/procedure perhaps due to fear about discomfort or claustrophobia  

  • After: Concern that comes with the long wait until hearing results from your oncologist  

Often, the worry is most obviously related to the current scan, but memories of the scan or test that revealed initial cancer can come into our minds. Scanxiety and the accompanying feelings of apprehension will present differently to each person. You may notice irritability or mood changes, difficulty sleeping, feeling nauseous, or an increased heart rate. Recognizing that each person manages worry differently can allow for individualized support and strategies for coping that work for both the person with cancer and the caregiver.  

Minimizing Scanxiety

It is human nature to experience fear in situations that are threatening to us. While there is no one perfect solution, there are some strategies you can employ to help you cope with your scanxiety. 

  1. Know Yourself and Name Your Scanxiety: Notice how you are feeling prior to and around your scan days. What does your anxiety look like? What does it feel like in your body? Is the feeling overwhelming or simply annoying? Can you imagine your fear as a specific shape or color?

  2. Find Support and Connection: It can be helpful to engage your support system during times of stress. Different people in your support network may offer different types of assistance such as listening, acting to help, and offering respite by providing a distraction. Time with friends or respite can help provide relief for some people in the time before their scan appointment.

  3. Bring Yourself Back to This Moment: It is a normal outcome of worrying to try and predict and control the future. These thoughts can unintentionally cause more distress as you imagine all the possible, often negative, outcomes. Finding ways to stay in the moment can help you cope with anxious emotions related to living with uncertainty. "Go deeper" in the resources below to try one of some exercises to help you stay present.

  4. Plan Something Good Beyond the Scan: While our minds can hyper-focus on the anticipation of the scan, it can be helpful to have something scheduled beyond your appointment to look forward to other than the scan result day. For some, this might mean planning a favorite meal or a getaway – something that can be enjoyed regardless of the outcome of the scan. Planning for something joyful can refocus your attention and put something on the calendar aside from the feared scan results date.

  5. Take Time to Worry: Worrying is a normal part of the cancer experience – and being human. Worry can consume you and distract you from living your present life. It is especially hard when the worry is about aspects of cancer and its treatment that are not yet known. Scheduling some worry time each day contains it to one specific time of the day. You can worry alone, write in a journal, or talk to a friend or family member. Stick to no more than 30 minutes and be consistent. Over time, you may be able to reduce the time of the worrying session, or you may find that you need worry time only around scans or certain events.

  6. Allow Yourself to Feel Both Hope and Fear: As humans, we have the capacity to feel and experience more than one feeling and truth at the same time. You can feel terrified and have hope. This 'both-can-exist' thinking can be helpful when coping with scanxiety. You can hold multiple realities at once making room and allowing for more than one emotion at a time.

  7. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). While most methods of minimizing scanxiety are emotional, there are some physical things you can do to help. Progressive muscle relaxation is a way to help your body relax through tension, relaxation, and mindfulness. It involves tensing and relaxing, or mindfully noticing, all the muscles in your body. Many people start from either their head or their toes and work through the body in that linear progression. It focuses your attention which helps to downshift present stress.


Get Support

Scanxiety can cause distress and make it a challenge to be present in your day to day. Identifying and acknowledging the very real worries around scans can be the first step in allowing for engagement in strategies to alleviate the intensity of the anxiety.  

If you are feeling that scanxiety is getting in the way of living your life, consider booking a session with an Iris mental health therapist for added support in coping with this common cancer-specific issue.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.