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Waiting on Test Results: How to Manage Scanxiety

It is normal to feel stress and anxiety when waiting on test results. After a medical test, waiting time can range from hours to weeks. Many people say that waiting for test results is one of the most stressful parts of diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up for a serious illness. 

What is "scanxiety"?

Scanxiety text in warped front

The worry about tests and waiting for imaging test or scan results has an unofficial name — “scanxiety.”

Scan anxiety, or scanxiety, is stress about imaging tests used to find cancer or other problems. In a broader sense, the term means the worry that occurs before, during, and after any medical exam or test.


Why test results take time

Imaging test results

For imaging tests, radiologists must read and analyze images. A radiologist is a doctor who has special training in using imaging tests for diagnosis and treatment. The radiologist will then prepare a report. This process may take several days.

Examples of imaging tests include:

Biopsy results

Getting biopsy results could take a few days to a few weeks. The tissue sample is taken to a lab. Pathologists analyze the sample and prepare reports. A pathologist is a doctor who studies cells under a microscope to identify diseases.

Blood test and genetic test results

Your care team may also do blood tests, blood cultures, or genetic testing. As with a biopsy, getting these test results may take a few days to a few weeks.

Your care provider may wait to discuss results until all test results are back. The results of one test may not provide many answers unless they are reviewed in relation to your child’s other tests. In some cases, the tests might be reviewed by a team of health care providers. Or your care team might decide that other tests are needed to make a diagnosis or rule out a disease.

Symptoms of anxiety

Each person experiences stress and worry differently. The experience of a patient may be quite different than that of a caregiver when it comes to scan anxiety. Signs of anxiety may include: 

  • Fearful or repeating thoughts 
  • Fast heart rate 
  • Nausea 
  • Sweaty palms 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Behavior changes or mood swings 
  • Having a hard time focusing 
  • Lack of interest in activities 
  • Fear of the illness spreading or coming back 

Strategies to cope with scanxiety

Just like people experience worry differently, they also have different ways to cope. Below are some strategies to deal with anxiety while waiting on test results.  

  • Distraction with activities you enjoy: Doing something enjoyable takes your attention elsewhere.
  • Exercise: Many studies have shown that exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Relaxation techniques: Try deep breathing, listening to relaxing music, visualization, yoga, meditation, massage, or stretching.
  • Acknowledge and accept the anxiety: Often simply naming your feelings can help manage them. Remind yourself or your child that scan anxiety is common.
  • Seek social support: Talking to others can help. Identify supportive family members and friends to talk to about test anxiety. It may help to have someone with you for tests or when you get results.
  • Plan ahead: Schedule scans or medical tests at a time that will be least stressful. Identify coping tools or resources you will use before, during, and after tests. Plan something fun to do after tests.
  • Be prepared for results: Know when and how you will get results. Stay positive, but make plans for the possibility of bad results. Waiting can make someone feel like they have no control over a situation. Making a plan can give a sense of control.
  • Help others: Helping people in need can shift the focus away from stress.
Distraction with activities that you enjoy can help with ‘scanxiety’.

Distraction with activities that your child enjoys can help with anxiety related to medical tests.

When to seek help for anxiety 

Sometimes, anxiety can become overwhelming and interfere with daily life and activities. If you are concerned about your or your child’s anxiety, talk to your care team. A psychologist, social worker, chaplain, or child life specialist can offer support and resources for emotional health.

Find more information on Psychology and Mental Health Services.

Questions to ask your care team  

  • How can I prepare my child for test results?
  • How long will test results take?
  • Will we get results all at once?
  • How will we get test results?
  • What are our next steps after getting test results?
  • What support resources are available if we need them?

Key points about anxiety while waiting for test results

  • Anxiety is a common reaction to the stress of having scans and waiting for results.
  • Waiting times for test results can range from a few days to a few weeks.
  • Signs of scan anxiety include nausea, trouble sleeping, and worried thoughts.
  • Ways to cope with stress and anxiety include doing things that take your mind off of waiting, getting physical activity, talking about fears, and having a plan.
  • If the anxiety gets worse, talk to your care team. 

Reviewed: November 2023