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Waiting for Test Results

A “workup” is a general term doctors sometimes use to describe the series of procedures used to make a diagnosis. This process takes time. 

Many procedures such as blood tests and X-rays may happen during a single clinic visit. Some tests such as CT scans, MRIs, and biopsies must be scheduled for a later time. Families may go to other facilities to have them. 

Many people say waiting for the results of tests is one of the most stressful parts of the diagnosis process. Depending on the type of test, it could be a few hours to a few weeks before the results are ready.

Why Results May Take Time

When an imaging test is performed, a radiologist must read and analyze the images and prepare a report to give to the provider who ordered the tests. This process may take several days. Examples of imaging tests include X-rays, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

If a biopsy is performed, it could take a few days to a few weeks for results. The sample is sent to a pathology laboratory for analysis. Sometimes it may be sent to other specialized labs for additional testing.

Many times, a doctor may wait until all the test results are back before discussing the information. The results of one test may not provide many answers unless it is reviewed in relation to all the other tests that the child has had.

Just because the doctor has ordered tests to look for signs of cancer doesn't mean that a cancer diagnosis has been made. The provider may suspect cancer or want to rule it out as possibility.

Tips for Coping with ‘Scanxiety’

The worry and anxiety associated with tests and waiting for scan results even has a name — scanxiety. The word has not made it into any official dictionaries yet, but it is used informally by patients, families, and medical professionals.

Urbandictionary.com has this definition: Anxiety and worry that accompanies the period of time before undergoing or receiving the results of a medical examination. Scanxiety is normal and experienced by many, if not most, patients and families.

Ways to deal with ‘scanxiety’ may include:

  • Distraction with activities that you love — Spending time doing something enjoyable takes your attention elsewhere in the days and weeks before scans and while waiting for results.
  • Exercise — Many studies have shown that exercise is effective in reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Relaxation techniques — Try deep breathing, listening to relaxing music, visualization, yoga, meditation, massage, or tai chi.
  • Acknowledge and accept the anxiety — Often just acknowledging your feelings can help with managing them. Remind yourself that scanxiety is a normal reaction to a stressful time.
  • Seek social support — Talking to others can be beneficial during stressful times. Identify calm and supportive family members and friends you would feel most comfortable talking to about scanxiety.
  • Plan ahead — Schedule scans at a time that will be least stressful. Also plan whom to bring and what coping tools or resources you will utilize before, during, and after scans. Plan something fun to do after scans.
  • Be prepared for results — Know when and how you will get them. Have an expectation of favorable results, but make plans for the worst case scenario. Waiting for results can make someone feel like they have no control over a situation. Making a plan can give you that sense of control over circumstances.
  • Help others — Focusing your attention on assisting people in need can shift your focus from your stress.
  • Seek professional support — If scanxiety becomes overwhelming and coping resources are not helping, talk to your primary care provider. You can work together to develop a care plan, which may include referral for additional support from a counselor or other mental health professional.

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Reviewed: August 2018

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