8 ways to cope with fear during the screening process
Cancer screening exams can save your life, but the process can cause a lot of fear and anxiety. Our expert weighs in on how to make it easier.
If you are an adult, you may be thinking about what cancer screening exams are coming due. Whether it’s a mammogram, skin screening, colonoscopy or Pap test, for many of us these potentially life-saving tests come with a series of questions. What will it feel like? Will I be embarrassed? And most significantly, what will they find?
Whatever your fears, it is essential to move past them and get screened. Screening exams can detect cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.
Here are some ideas to help you get through the screening process from Kristin Strength, a social work counselor in MD Anderson’s Department of Social Work.
Think of early detection screenings as similar to other types of upkeep you do in your life. Things like brushing your teeth or flossing.
Think of screening as maintenance. Make a place in your mind for all the little things you do to take care of yourself and put cancer screening with them.
“Think of early detection screenings as similar to other types of upkeep you do in your life,” says Strength. “Things like brushing your teeth or flossing.”
Remember screening reduces the risk you will need more extensive care. If cancer goes unnoticed, the resulting treatment can be more serious. So staying on top of your recommended screenings may actually reduce fear in the long run.
“Even if your medical team finds an issue, the earlier you discover it, the more options you have,” Strength says. “A fleeting moment of discomfort now could reduce a much greater amount of pain or discomfort in the future.”
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Build a relationship with your medical team. Once you find professionals you like, stick with them. Regular screenings with the same group helps you build a strong relationship with them. This reduces unknowns.
Also, if you do need further testing, you will be confident you are in good hands.
Learn about the cancer screening exams available to you. A lot of screening exams are common, routine procedures. Knowing what to expect during a mammograms, Pap and HPV test, colonoscopy or other tests as well as many others can reduce anxiety. It may also be helpful to prepare a list of questions about what to expect and ask your doctor or another member of the medical team to explain.
Use breathing techniques to help you relax. While you are waiting for your screening to start, or even during the screening if possible, use simple breathing exercises to help reduce anxiety and keep you calm. Deep breaths or easy mindfulness exercises can help you stay in the moment and stop those “what if?” questions taking over.
Set expectations for when the results will come. Discuss with the medical team how your results will be communicated and when they will come. This sets expectations so you don’t have to wonder. Know that you have done everything you can to take control of the situation.
Plan in advance what to do during the waiting period. Ask yourself what other things need attention in your life, or look for other ways to take care of yourself. Plan to get some exercise or reach out to a trusted friend or loved one you would like to spend time with.
Whatever your results, stay in touch with your medical team, and be sure to follow up on recommendations they have based on your results.
“Recognize the courage and resilience it took for you to take the steps to get screened,” Strength says. You might wish to talk with a social work counselor about available support such as counseling, support groups or other opportunities to support healthy coping.