7 ways to cope with scanxiety

Kaleb, from Birmingham, was diagnosed with a pilocytic astrocytoma (a type of brain tumour) after having a brain haemorrhage when he was 14. He was treated at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, and The Christie, Manchester. Here, Kaleb shares his tips on how to cope with the scanxiety that comes from getting scans and waiting for the results.

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What is scanxiety?

How to cope with scanxiety

Scan anxiety—or ‘scanxiety’—describes the anxiety, worry, fear, or agitation that you might feel in the lead-up to a scan or to the scan results. 

This kind of anxiety is really understandable. Medical scans can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and the wait for results can be a time of uncertainty. These emotions and any others that might come up are all completely valid. 

Over the last six years, I’ve had a lot of scans. From MRIs to X-rays, and CTs to ultrasounds, I’ve had a bit of a tour of the universe of scans! What’s been most helpful for me is recognising how I’m feeling in the lead-up to a scan or the scan results, letting myself know that those emotions are completely valid, and then thinking about what might help. 

So, without further ado, here are my top tips for managing scanxiety!

Tips for scanxiety

Consider a scanning soundtrack

At some hospitals it’s possible to listen to music while you have your scan. For me, listening to some of my favourite music while I’m having a scan helps me to relax.

Preparing a playlist can also be a helpful distraction in the lead-up to the scan. 

To prepare your scanning playlist, bring a CD with some of your favourite songs or pick a selection of your favourite songs and download them onto your phone. Some hospital scanners are only able to play from a phone and some only from a CD, so it can be useful to bring both. 

Plan how to get to the scan

I always make sure I know what time I need to leave home and what route to take to get to my scans. I find this really helps to remove some of the stress and anxiety from the day of the scan. 

If there’s anything you need to get ready—like your appointment letter for the scan—you could leave this by your front door, so you don’t forget it. 

If you’re driving, make sure you know where to park. Check the hospital webpage for the carpark address. 

If you’re taking public transport, check what route to go. If possible, it can be really useful to buy bus or train tickets online before the day of the scan.

Let your medical team know if you have any particular concerns 

Talking to your medical team is the best way to raise any concerns you might have about the scan. For example, they can let you know roughly how long the scan will take.

You’re the one going through the scan, so it’s your concerns that matter. You are completely entitled to ask your medical team about any worries you may have, and their answers can help to relieve anxiety.

Think about your post-scan relaxation

After having a scan, I really like to do something relaxing to help me to relieve my stress. 

Scans can involve sitting very still for a long time, so I really like to go for a walk afterwards. 

I often find my scans are scheduled in the middle of the day, so it can be a good idea to get some food afterwards. This gives me some energy and also gives me a chance to sit down and allow my feelings to sink in. 

It can be surprising just how emotionally tiring having a scan is, so making sure to relax afterwards is really important. 

Kaleb in hospital ready for a scan and coping with scanxiety

For the results

The wait for scan results can be really hard. I often don’t notice how anxious I am about results, so I find it really helpful to reflect on and notice how I’m feeling in the couple of days before my results appointment, so I can acknowledge my feelings. 

Get in touch if your results are delayed

Sometimes, my scan results have been delayed, which can increase my anxiety. If this happens, it can be really helpful to get in touch with your medical team to let them know that you’re anxious, because they may be able to help out.

Be kind to yourself about how you’re feeling

During the wait for and after receiving results it’s been really helpful for me to acknowledge my feelings—whether they include anxiety, fear, or even if I’m not that worried. Having a scan is a tough thing to go through, so it can bring up a lot of feelings. It can be really useful to pause and remind yourself that these feelings are valid. 

Have someone with you when you get your results

When I get my results I take someone with me, usually one of my parents. Taking someone you trust with you means you’ll have someone you can spend time with afterwards. 

Whether you talk about the results, something else, or don’t talk at all, having this company can be really helpful after receiving results. 

Regardless of what the results show, it’s emotionally draining to receive them, so having someone to support you—family member or friend—is invaluable.

Hopefully, these tips prove to be helpful ideas for managing scan anxiety, but the most important thing is to develop techniques that work for you. Amongst these, being kind to yourself is the number one.

If you’re a young person going through cancer and you feel you’re struggling with your mental health, please do speak to your clinical team, Teenage Cancer Trust Nurse or Youth Support Coordinator. They’ll do whatever they can to help you, which may include referring you to specialist support.

We have information on who to contact if you or someone else is in crisis and needs urgent help or further support.