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Skin Cancer and Screening Anxiety

A diagnosis of skin cancer increases a person’s likelihood of developing a repeat skin cancer, called a recurrence. It’s common for an individual to become much more vigilant about their own skin checks, and skin checks by a physician also become more frequent. In our 2018 Skin Cancer In America survey, 37% of respondents said they see the doctor every 3 to 4 months for skin checks and monitoring, and another 35% said they go twice a year.

Increased awareness can increase anxiety

Along with the increased awareness and screening, many people experience a significant increase in their anxiety, plagued by fears of the cancer returning. Many in the skin cancer community refer to the anxiety that accompanies scans as “scanxiety,” and while an upcoming doctor’s appointment can raise anxiety, survey results show that worrying about fears of recurrence are much more frequent than the doctor’s visits.

Frequency of thoughts of recurrence

As many as 28% of survey participants admitted they worry about recurrence once a day or more, with another 26% saying it comes to mind a few times a week and 23% saying it happens a few times a month. Only 12% said the worry about recurrence only comes up when they have a pending doctor’s appointment or other testing. The daily thought of skin cancer recurring was even more prevalent among those who had melanoma (33%) compared to other types of skin cancer.

Increased anxiety with doctor visits, scans, and biopsies

The levels of anxiety were fairly similar across the types of skin cancer. When having a skin check by their doctor, more anxiety than normal was felt by 71% of those with melanoma, 62% of those with basal cell carcinoma (BCC), 59% of those with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and 66% of those with dysplastic nevus syndrome/atypical mole syndrome.

Similarly, having a skin biopsy also increases the level of anxiety, with 83% of those with melanoma, 73% of those with BCC, 73% of those with SCC, and 82% of those with dysplastic nevus syndrome/atypical mole syndrome admitting they feel more anxiety than normal. While many people with skin cancer do not have imaging scans like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) scans, and computed tomography (CT) scans, it’s not surprising that anxiety increases for those who do: 56% of those with melanoma, 37% of those with BCC, 42% of those with SCC, and 44% of those with dysplastic nevus syndrome/atypical mole syndrome admitting they feel more anxiety than normal when they have to have a scan.

Coping with scanxiety

The majority of respondents to our 2018 Skin Cancer In America survey said they use a variety of tactics for coping with their scanxiety, including:

  • Praying
  • Keeping busy
  • Talking with others (friends and family)
  • Exercising
  • Thinking positive thoughts
  • Trying not to think about it or to not dwell on it
  • Focusing on work

How do you deal with scanxiety? Share your tips in the comments below.

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