I've got Scanxiety - the medics should've told me to dance
I’ve got scanxiety
I had a cancer-related CT scan 8 weeks ago – and I’m still waiting for the results. When I called the hospital I was told to think of something positive and to try not to worry.
I was anxious – the medics should’ve told me to dance.
What is Scanxiety?
Scanxiety describes anxiety which is associated with waiting for medical scan results. There is a growing medical and academic literature on cancer-related scanxiety.
According to Mannion et al. (2022) anxiety related to general medical testing is a real issue that affects a large number of people.
Bui et al. (2022) report that scan-associated anxiety is a problem for people with advanced cancer.
Bui et al. examined the prevalence and severity of scanxiety in 222 people who had cancer-related scans and concluded that scanxiety is common (55% of sample reported scanxiety) and it can be severe (in terms of high state anxiety levels).
Surveillance scans (e.g. CT scans) are a common aspect of nurse-led surveillance programmes for people with cancer, which can go on for several years post initial diagnosis or surgery.
I’m on a surveillance programme which involves regular blood tests, colonoscopies and CT scans (of thorax, abdomen and pelvis) for three-four years. I feel fantastic to be part of a surveillance programme – I feel reassured that if something is found then it can be treated.
However, the wait for results can be stressful – so far this year I waited 6 weeks for colonoscopy biopsy results, two weeks for blood test results and have waited 8 weeks (so far) for the CT scan results.
Winebrenner (2022), in a study of the experiences of scanxiety in survivors of pancreatic cancer, claim that “Surveillance scans can signify a crisis point in a cancer patient’s life, provoking fear and anxiety that negatively impact quality of life.”
One of the anxiety-provoking challenges of surviving cancer is dealing with the reality that the cancer might come back. According to Duineveld et al., (2016, cited in Shim Ling et al. 2022) around 30-40% of colorectal cancer patients who have received treatment with curative intent (e.g. patients who have had surgery to remove all malignant tissue, which is meant to cure the disease) eventually develop a recurrence.
This is why surveillance programmes in cancer-care are so important – and why waiting for the scan results can be so anxiety provoking.
It is clear, and recognised (Bui et al. 2022), that strategies to reduce scanxiety are needed.
People deal with scanxiety in a variety of ways. In Mannion, et al.’s (2022) qualitative study of medical testing-related anxiety in patients with cancer,
they recorded people’s subjective experiences in their own words. They conclude that “In patients with cancer, the anxiety from medical testing is real”.
Statements related to people’s coping process included:
“See your scan as a tool instead of … instead of um … a death sentence, I suppose.”
“So I just deal with it and work.”
“And don’t let myself sink into a pity pot ….”
I can relate to all of these statements and mental strategies for coping with cancer-related scanxiety.
Dance as a Coping Behaviour
It will be no surprise to anyone who knows me that I also use another anxiety-reducing strategy to help me cope.
I dance – and there is evidence to suggest that dancing is an effective way of reducing anxiety in both the general population (e.g. Argiriadou, et al. 2022, Peng, 2022), and in people with cancer too (e.g. Karathanou et al. 2021).
Karathanou et al. (2021) carried out a study using Greek traditional dance as a practice for managing stress and anxiety in people with cancer. They recruited 300 people with cancer and split them into two groups.
Everyone completed the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale questionnaire and then one group – of 150 people with cancer – was given 8 weeks of traditional Greek dance classes, for 1 hour twice a week. The other group carried on with their lives as normal.
After 8 weeks they completed the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale questionnaire again.
Karathanou et al. (2021) found that those people who had engaged with 8 weeks of Traditional Greek dance saw a significant reduction in both their stress and anxiety levels. The other group did not see a reduction in their stress or anxiety.
These findings suggest that engaging with an activity like Greek Traditional dance for 8 weeks can help to reduce the experience of stress and anxiety in people with cancer.
Taken together with the abundance of evidence showing that dancing can lead to a reduction in anxiety, these findings suggest that dancing might play a significant role in helping some people with cancer to cope with scanxiety.
When I called the hospital to ask for my CT scan results I was told that the results were not yet in – I was then told to think of something positive and not to worry – perhaps a better piece of advice would have been to take a series of dance classes while I wait. Taking this idea one step further, perhaps hospitals should either offer dance classes, or support community dance classes, to help reduce anxiety levels for patients across the board.
Dr Peter Lovatt
August 1, 2022
Argiriadou, E., Giannakis, P., Mavrovouniotis, A., Praskidou, A-K., Giannakis, N., and Mavrovouniotis, F. (2022). The effect of an online live group program with Greek traditional dances on state anxiety and self-esteem. International Journal of Social Science and Human Research, 5(1), 33-44.
Mannion, S., Martin, N. A., O’Connor, J., Wieland, J., & Jatoi, A. (2022). In Their Own Words, “Waiting Sucks:” A Qualitative Study of Medical Testing-Related Anxiety in Patients with Cancer. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine®.
Shing Lim, C.Y., Laidsaar-Powell, R.C., Young, J.M., Solomon, M., Steffens, D., Yeo, D., Blinman, P., Koczwara, B., and Joshy, G. (2022). The long haul: Lived experiences of survivors following different treatments for advanced colorectal cancer: A qualitative study. European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 58, 102123.
Not sure where to start?
Try the Move-Assure Dance for Mental Wellbeing 20-week programme with Dame Darcey Bussell and Dr Peter Lovatt.
Want to learn more about the amazing power of dance to transform lives? Read The Dance Cure: The surprising secret to being smarter, stronger, happier, by Dr Peter Lovatt
Want to learn more about the Psychology of Movement and train to be a Movement in Practice Facilitator? Then have a look at the full range of our courses at www.movementinpractice.com/courses
About the Author
Dr Peter Lovatt is an expert in dance and movement psychology. He is the original Dance Psychologist and is sometimes known as Dr Dance. He’s been studying Psychology, Movement and Dance for over 25 years. He is the author of The Dance Cure: the surprising secret to being smarter, stronger, happier (2020) and Dance Psychology: the science of dance and dancers (2018) and he is the co-founder of Movement in Practice. If you would like to train in the Psychology of Movement and qualify as a Movement in Practice Facilitator please visit www.movementinpractice.com