5 tips for reducing scanxiety

May 03, 2023 | by Lee N. Dennis, M.D.

Ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans and other radiology services are often used to help diagnose and treat cancer. However, many patients agonize over these routine tests for a variety of reasons, including claustrophobia, fear of radiation exposure, or dread that the results will bring bad news.

Scanxiety is the term coined for the pre-test and post-test fear that many patients diagnosed with cancer face. These feelings of anxiety are common, but there are things you can do to reduce your scanxiety.

To help you through your next scan, I recommend these five tips:

  1. Understand the cause of your anxiety. Ask yourself what is really causing your anxiety. Are you afraid of enclosed spaces? Are you concerned your doctor will tell you your cancer has returned? Or, have you never had a scan before and don’t know what to expect?

    I recommend patients talk to their doctor if they are having any concerns. At Edward-Elmhurst Health, our certified radiology technologists receive special training on how to walk patients through the scan process and provide a calming and comfortable environment. If your test results show signs of cancer, your physician will work closely with you to answer your questions and develop your personalized treatment plan. For patients who are claustrophobic, we offer wide-bore MRI.

  2. Meditate. Numerous studies have shown that focusing on your breathing and bringing your mind’s attention to the present, without drifting into concerns about the past or future, can do wonders for relieving anxiety. Take five deep breaths anytime you start to feel anxious. This can help you focus on the present, calm your nerves, lower your blood pressure and reduce stress.

  3. Play loud music. Some scanning machines, such as MRIs, make loud noises when they operate. The banging sounds are caused by the vibration of metal coils in the machine when it’s turned on. From a patient’s perspective, it sounds more like a high school marching band is playing drums next to your head, which can be unsettling.

    Edward-Elmhurst Health offers noise-cancelling headphones that not only protect your ears, but allow you to listen to music of your choice. Whether you would like to listen to soothing jazz on a high volume or bass-pounding alternative music, the choice is yours.

  4. Know when and how you will get your results. Sometimes it’s waiting for the results, rather than the scan itself, that causes the most anxiety. Your physician may want to share the results with you in person and some tests may take a couple of days to get results. At Edward-Elmhurst Health, our physicians typically have test results within 48 hours. Talking to your physician and knowing when and how you will get your results will help alleviate any added stress.

  5. Reward yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to after you have your scan. This will give you something else to think about instead of the scan itself. Set up a massage, go out to lunch or buy yourself something nice. You’ve overcome your scanxiety and earned it!

Learn more about imaging and radiology services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Lee Dennis, MD is a radiologist at Elmhurst Hospital.

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