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Scanxiety: what is it and what can I do to help?

Scanxiety is a common experience. Read about what it is and what you can do to help manage it.

On this page:

What is scanxiety?

It's very common to feel anxious or worried about upcoming scans or medical tests. When this anxiety is linked to scans (like ultrasounds) or their results this is called scanxiety (scan anxiety)

You may also have feelings of anxiety and stress linked to other monitoring tests and their results, such as the CA125 blood test. CA125 tests and ultrasound scans are used to diagnose ovarian cancer, but they’re also used to monitor ovarian cancer. On this page we will use the term scanxiety to refer to feelings of anxiety or distress associated with any monitoring or follow up tests for ovarian cancer, including scans and blood test results.  

Anxious feelings around tests and their results can range from mild worry to feelings of panic and distress. You may notice that these feelings come up in the lead up to a test, whilst having the test or scan or when waiting for the results.  

Scanxiety impacts people in different ways and at different times, but if you have these feelings, you're not alone. It's common to have feelings of distress around follow up tests and scans, but there are things you can do to help cope with them.

Dr Aneesh Shravat (a senior psychologist at Maggie’s), Irene, Sbba and Rose discuss what scanxiety for ovarian cancer is and the impact it can have:

How does scanxiety present?

Feelings of stress, anxiety and worry can show differently for different people, so there are specific ways scanxiety may affect you. For some people these feelings can be really severe. 

These are some common experiences linked to scanxiety.


Scanxiety may impact you physically:

  • trouble falling or staying asleep (insomnia)
  • feeling more or less hungry than normal
  • a fast heart rate or tight chest.

Scanxiety may impact you mentally:

  • repeated worrying and negative thoughts  
  • trouble paying attention and remembering things or feeling distracted
  • difficulty keeping up with work or school
  • low mood (or changes in your mood), feeling tearful or irritable
  • not feeling as motivated as usual.

Scanxiety may impact you socially. You may find it hard to socialise as normal or feel that you don’t want to burden others with your worries. 

Why do I get scanxiety for ovarian cancer?

There are many reasons you may experience scanxiety. Scanxiety is often linked to a fear of cancer coming back (recurrence) and a lack of control over what the test results will show. It can be hard to cope with the uncertainty about when you will receive your test results and what those results will mean for you. Spending time in the hospital for a scan or a test may also bring back difficult memories which can also contribute to feelings of stress.  

During follow up appointments for ovarian cancer, scanxiety may be caused by: 

  • Ultrasound, CT, X-ray or MRI scans. These are scans that create images of the inside of your body.  
  • The CA125 blood test. This test may also cause more anxiety as its results can be more difficult to interpret. A raised CA125 level doesn't necessarily mean that the cancer is recurring, as it can be raised for other reasons. Clinicians look for a ‘trend’ in CA125 levels over time, rather than a one-off change in the level as it's normal for it to go up and down. You may feel that knowing and tracking your CA125 blood test results help you feel more in control and less anxious. Or you may feel the complete opposite. This may add to your worries, and you may not want to know. You should talk to your treatment team about if and how you want to be told the results.  
  • Other blood tests used to monitor the effects of maintenance treatments such as PARP inhibitors and/or bevacizumab.

What can I do to manage scanxiety?

If you experience scanxiety, then it can be helpful to prepare yourself, your loved ones and your colleagues ahead of an upcoming appointment. You know yourself best, and people can experience distress or tension for days or weeks ahead of a follow up appointment or test.

It may help to notice and identify when and how scanxiety tends to affect you so that you can arrange for extra support during that time, or plan activities that you find relaxing or bring you joy. Consider whether there are specific ways your loved ones could help lessen your stress during these periods. This may be something like preparing meals in advance for you. At work or school, you may need to rearrange workload or deadlines if you find that scanxiety is affecting your ability to focus or your sleep.

On the day of your appointment, it can be helpful to bring someone with you who you trust and feel comfortable with. Feelings of stress and anxiety can mean you may be less able to remember what's said during the appointment, so having someone else to recall what was said can take some pressure off you. It can also help to write down key information from the appointment so that you can refer back to it.  

After the appointment, some people find it helpful to have a treat planned to look forward to. This can be getting lunch with a friend, watching a film, or going for a walk somewhere new. The lead up to and appointment itself can be emotionally exhausting, so try to do something relaxing afterwards and don’t feel surprised if you feel tired, this is normal.

There are different things that can help you manage scanxiety. Dr Aneesh Shravat (a senior psychologist at Maggie’s), Irene, Sbba and Rose discuss ways to help you cope with scanxiety for ovarian cancer:


Mindfulness is a non-religious form of meditation. It can help you be present in the moment rather than worry about the future and cope with anxious, stressful or negative thought patterns.  

Maggie’s has relaxation and breathing exercises and suggestions of mindfulness apps you can download.  

There are also apps which can help guide you through mindfulness exercises such as Calm and Headspace. These are free to download but have a subscription fee.

Try our mindfulness taster session led by Trish Bartley, mindfulness teacher.


There are different forms of talking therapy that can help with scanxiety, by helping you to navigate anxious thoughts and feelings. Macmillan offer up to four free therapy sessions for people living with cancer through Bupa.  

There are specific types of therapy than can help with scanxiety:

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that has been found to help with anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia. It provides practical ways to break negative thought cycles.

  • In some areas in the UK, you can book CBT through the NHS via a self-referral or you can speak to your GP to get referred.
  • If you choose to try CBT privately, you can search the CBT register for certified therapists in your area.
Acceptance and commitment therapy

Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT) is a type of therapy that helps you to notice and acknowledge difficult feelings or thoughts in a non-judgemental way. Difficult thoughts and feelings are a normal part of life and will show up however hard you try to suppress them. If your mind gets hooked by these difficult thoughts, you can be overwhelmed by worries about the future or regrets about the past and may be unable to enjoy the present. Rather than trying to push away unpleasant thoughts and feelings, in ACT you learn to notice and name them, let them go and bring your mind back to the present. Difficult thoughts and emotions then become less powerful and overwhelming. They are still there but the volume has been turned down.

It has been found to help people with anxiety, depression and fear of cancer recurrence. ACT can be combined with CBT, or it can be used as its own approach. Ask your GP or local cancer support centre about accessing ACT practitioners.

Physical activity

Exercise and movement can help reduce feelings of anxiety, clear your mind and release stress or tension. Whether you decide to join an exercise class, download a fitness app, try an online workout or go for a walk around your local area, making a habit of exercise can help with anxious thoughts, boost your mood and enable you to feel more present.

Macmillan, Cancer Research UK and the NHS have ideas to help you keep active. Maggie’s offer a range of exercise classes.

Breathing exercises

Simple breathing exercises can help reduce stress, anxiety and panic. The NHS has more information on how to do breathing exercises. Cancer Research UK also has information on breathing and relaxation techniques.

Rectangular or square breathing are breathing exercises that can help with feelings of stress by slowing down your breathing. This lowers the level of adrenaline in your body. Adrenaline is a hormone linked to stress.

Square breathing is done by breathing in for four seconds, holding for four seconds, breathing out for four seconds and holding for four seconds. This can be done as you trace the sides of a square with your gaze:

square breathing exercise

Flow state activities

These are activities that are absorbing, immersive and enable you to enter a state of deep focus, with no distractions. Different people have different activities through which they can enter flow state, so it might help to think about what these are for you. It can be reading, drawing, practicing yoga, playing an instrument, solving puzzles or gardening.  

Try to make plenty of time for those hobbies and activities which allow you to be fully immersed in the moment during the lead up to tests/scans and whilst waiting for results. These activities can bring you joy, enable you to be present in the moment and, by occupying your mind, they can help pause anxious thought patterns.

Woman watercolour painting


As a short-term coping strategy, having plans or activities to distract you in the lead up to a scan can be helpful. It's important not to distract yourself over too long a period, as this can mean you don’t acknowledge the difficult feelings or worries which can then become overwhelming. 


Everyone has different ways to relax, it might be by watching a film, taking a bath or going for a walk. However it is that you relax, try to make more time than normal for these activities to help with scanxiety.  

Complementary therapies such as Tai Chi, yoga, massages and acupuncture can help you to relax.

Watch our relaxation taster session run by Claire Brett-Pitt a cancer and yoga specialist.

Support groups

Joining a support group can help you feel less alone with feelings of stress and anxiety. Speaking to others who understand what you’re going through can help normalise your experience and provide a unique source of support.

  • In Touch is our safe and supportive Facebook group only for those with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. It's a private community where you can talk honestly and openly and find comfort and understanding from others living with and beyond ovarian cancer.
  • You can also search for an in-person support group in your area.   

Where can I go for more support?

Rachel and Val Target Ovarian Cancer nurse advisers

Our support line is open Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm

Last review: May 2024

Next review: May 2027

To learn more about our review process, take a look at our information standards.  


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