'Scanxiety': Cancer screenings are life-saving, but the anxiety they induce can overwhelm patients

Denise Dador Image
Saturday, July 1, 2023
Cancer screenings are vital, but the anxiety they induce can overwhelm
'Scanxiety': Anxiety-inducing cancer screenings are no joke, they may save your life. Here is how to cope with them and avoid putting them off:

Nearly 17 million people in the US are cancer survivors. The journey doesn't end at treatment. Screening for recurrence can be an emotional hurdle. As "Cancer Survivor's Month" comes to a close, patients tell us more about "Scanxiety" and how to cope with it.

Even with her background as an oncology nurse, Jennifer McMahon delayed getting checked.

"I had this mole that was flat and kind of hiding behind my ear. Eight months after I initially saw the mole, I saw a dermatologist and had it removed. And, unfortunately, I did end up being diagnosed with melanoma," she said.

Since 2016, she's been on a rollercoaster of surgeries and treatments. But the most daunting part? The anxiety surrounding getting a scan and waiting for the results. She's had 30 of them.

"Every scan comes with that fear. Is it back? Are we good?" she said.

"You understand the worry and the fear," said surgical oncologist Dr. Jukes Namm at Loma Linda University Cancer Center.

He said a spike in anxiety as scans approach, often called "Scanxiety," is a very real challenge. His advice?

"Stay as positive as possible. The scans are getting better and better. They're able to detect lesions and suspicious tumor occurrences earlier and earlier. It really is a blessing to have scans regularly," he said.

Namm said there are patients who become lost to follow up. They delay screenings for months, maybe even years, and they only come back when they think something is wrong.

"At that point, they have very, very advanced disease," Namm said.

He said the benefits of screening outweigh the alternative. "Scanxiety" is a normal part of being a cancer survivor. McMahon said when you're anxious, let people know.

"Tell the staff that you're scared. Have them walk you through it or explain it. Have them sit with you as much as they can," McMahon said.

Support groups give her guidance. She knows a scan will bring her joyous news or information to keep her in the fight.

"You've gotten this far. You are still above ground. You are strong. You are brave. You will get to the next step," she said.