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Cancer > Working With Your Doctor: Cancer

Preparing for Your Next Imaging Scan

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with cancer, you’ll probably find yourself going to a lot of imaging scans. Imaging scans are a tool your health care team may use to see how well your cancer treatment is working. These scans may be scheduled before, during, and after treatments.

Imaging scans are an important part of the treatment process, but they can also be stressful. Understanding the types of scans you may have and being prepared for them can help.

Types of imaging scans

Three of the most common types of imaging scans used for cancer are MRI, CT, and PET scans. As part of your treatment plan, your health care team may use one or all of these types of scans.

MRI scan

An MRI—or a magnetic resonance imaging—scan uses powerful magnets to take very detailed pictures of soft tissue and specific areas within your bones.

CT scan

A CT—or a computed tomography—scan is also called a CAT scan. It creates a 3-dimensional picture of your body by taking pictures from different angles with x-rays.

PET scan

A PET—or positron emission tomography—scan uses something called a radiotracer to find and measure disease in the body. This tracer is made out of a simple form of sugar. Cancer cells use sugar faster than normal cells, which makes them look brighter on the images produced by the scanner.

Meeting with your health care team

Bring along a loved one

When you receive your cancer scan results, if possible, have a family member or friend join you. Besides being there to provide emotional support, they can help you take notes, or remind you of the things you wanted to talk about with your health care team.

Share your concerns

If you have any questions or concerns, share them with your health care team immediately. Also, the information you receive during your scan follow-up appointment can be a lot to take in, so it’s helpful to take notes during the discussion.

Some questions you might want to ask include:

  • How often will I need to have follow-up imaging scans?
  • How will my scan results affect my treatment options and long-term outcome?
  • In addition to imaging scans, are there other tests I may need that will help us decide the next steps for my treatment?

Remember, you and your health care team are partners in treatment, and sharing information can help you make informed decisions and know what to expect.

Ways to prepare for your next scan

It’s very common to feel anxious leading up to a scan and while waiting for your results. The tips below may help.

Preparing for Your Next Cancer Scan
Preparing for Your Next Cancer Scan

Getting ready for your scan

Talk it through

To help ease your mind, you might want to call ahead to the location where you’re having the scan. The medical staff will be able to talk you through the procedure, so you’ll have an idea of what to expect.

Avoid wearing metal

As you’re getting dressed, remember not to wear anything metal, because it can affect imaging. Avoid wearing things like jewelry, hair clips, or zippers.

Avoid eating and drinking

Generally speaking, you should avoid eating and drinking a few hours prior to your scan, but check with your health care team or the staff at the imaging center ahead of time about what’s recommended for you.

On the day of your scan

Take deep breaths

Anxiety and stress can make you take short, shallow breaths and cause your heart rate to speed up. While waiting for your scan to begin, try using a relaxation technique like deep breathing.

Take your mind off of things

Music, games, books, or magazines can provide a way to take your mind off your scan and help calm your nerves. You may want to bring along your smartphone or tablet and a pair of headphones with you into the waiting room.

Think positive

During the test, you could try to imagine positive settings, experiences, and feelings that may help take your mind off the scan.

Waiting for your cancer imaging results

Spend some quality time

While you’re waiting for scan results, it’s a good time to surround yourself with family and friends. They’re a big part of your support system, so just spending time with them could be a way to reduce stress.

Have a plan

Talk to your health care team before the scan to find out how long it may take to receive the results—and how you will receive them. For example, some doctors may require an appointment to review your results, while others may share results with you over the phone. Knowing this information ahead of time may help make the wait a little easier as you plan for your next appointment.