PET and CT scans can be a major source of anxiety among MyLymphomaTeam members. Fear of disappointing tests results or cancer spread can cause stress during treatment. Studies have shown cancer patients experience significant levels of anxiety both before and after imaging scans for a variety of reasons, including fear of results and concern about side effects.
MyLymphomaTeam members frequently voice feelings of anxiety related to upcoming imaging scans and the difficulty of waiting for results. “I get my PET scan today. I know I won’t know anything today, but it’s still nerve-wracking,” one MyLymphomaTeam member shared. Another noted, “I’m having a CT scan tomorrow. I always get nervous before these.”
Hope for good results is also a common topic among members. One member said, “I just had my last chemo after six months of treatment. Going to have a PET scan next week to see if the cancer is gone. Please be gone.”
A CT scan (also known as a computed tomography scan, computerized axial tomography scan, or CAT scan) provides doctors with cross-sectional images, or “slices,” of the body. This allows doctors to see bones, organs, and soft tissues with greater detail than a regular X-ray. A dye may also be injected into a vein or ingested to make specific tissues show up more clearly on the images.
CT scans are helpful for doctors looking for lymphoma throughout the body — in the abdomen, pelvis, chest, head, and neck.
A positron emission tomography (PET) scan uses a small amount of radioactivity injected into a vein, swallowed, or inhaled to locate tumor cells in the body. PET scans show where glucose, or sugar, is being used in the body. Cancer cells require high levels of sugar to live and grow. Therefore, areas of high glucose consumption show up brightly on the scans and indicate the presence of cancer cells.
The picture generated by a PET scan is less detailed than a CT scan or MRI, but it can provide doctors with important information about the location of cancer or metastasis in the body. PET scans are often used to determine if a lymph node contains cancerous cells or if a tumor is responding to treatment.
After your scan, a radiologist will interpret the images and speak with your doctor. This usually takes about a day. Then your doctor will contact you to share your results.
Waiting for results can be stressful. Members of MyLymphomaTeam frequently discuss the emotional toll. “Waiting on test results from my PET of last week,” one member said. “My anxiety is through the roof.”
Anxiety is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Fears of worsening symptoms or further cancer spread can result in generalized anxiety for many patients. One study found that lymphoma survivors more commonly experienced anxiety (37 percent) than the general U.S. population (19.1 percent).
Although there is no evidence that stress or anxiety itself can worsen lymphoma, stress and anxiety can have other negative effects on the body. Stress can weaken your immune system, increase your risk of heart disease, and negatively affect your mental health. As a result, managing stress can improve your mental and physical state while undergoing cancer treatment.
There are many ways to manage cancer-related anxiety. These include both medical therapies and nonmedical lifestyle changes. Medical options include:
There are other strategies that can help manage anxiety in general. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides these tips for coping with anxiety:
It can be difficult to manage feelings of anxiety, especially during your lymphoma treatment. Members of MyLymphomaTeam rely on different methods to provide relief. For some, seeing a therapist is helpful. One member said, “I started therapy on Thursday for my anxiety. We will see how it does. My therapist said she can’t take away what is going on as far as my journey, but she can try and help me cope.”
Meditation is also a popular method. As one member noted, “Positive meditation and prayer has me back on track.”
Other members praise the power of positivity. “The best way to live with the shadow of cancer is living behind and looking forwards. Be positive and smile,” said one member. Another member echoed this sentiment, “You got this. Be positive and pray.”
Have you experienced scan anxiety? How do you manage it? Share your thoughts and questions below or directly on MyLymphomaTeam.