Living with cancer blog

Cancer survivors struggle with fear of frequent scans

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. February 16, 2013

How do you feel when it's time for the next scan?

If you're a cancer survivor, you've probably experienced the worry and anxiety that comes along with having a follow-up scan after your treatment is complete. Many of you have mentioned this in our discussions.

Every little symptom may bring thoughts of worry and fear — has the cancer returned? Researchers at Mayo Clinic have studied this aspect of survivorship and found that it can be an issue for most people.

The researchers from Mayo Clinic and other cancer centers studied how people react emotionally during the time just prior to a surveillance scan after treatment has completed.

They found that most survivors report worry and anxiety most intensely during the period just prior to their scan, peak leading up to the scan and then drop off just after the results are known. Some survivors have coined the term "scanitis" related to this worry ... a real concern.

Knowing that this feeling is normal, there are a few things you can try to help yourself through these periods of anxiety. Here are a few ideas I've collected from survivors:

  • Keep busy during this time — surround yourself with family and friends doing the things you enjoy most.
  • When you notice intense feelings of anxiousness — use relaxation or imagery to work through the sensation (picture your happy place; take slow, deep breaths with eyes closed for a period).
  • Get physical — yoga, walking, or your favorite form of physical activity will help your mind crowd out the thoughts of worry.
  • Educate yourself about signs and symptoms of recurrence for your cancer type — this way you'll have a better sense of what's normal and what's not related to the everyday sensations you might notice.
  • Make a plan with your cancer team to communicate the results back to you in a timely manner so you don't spend days waiting, wondering and worrying — ask about this as soon as your scan is scheduled.

Fear of recurrence, anxiety and depression can be made worse because of frequent scans. Cancer specialists are beginning to look at this and decide if frequent scanning is really the best option for patients who aren't experiencing new or worrisome symptoms.

You may see changes in your follow-up scan schedule because of this — especially if you're doing well and have no symptoms of concern.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on scanitis. What helps you get through this time?


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Feb. 16, 2013