Waiting for Biopsy Results Can be as Stressful as a Cancer Diagnosis—Tips to Help!
“I know the waiting is the worst part,” says caregiver cluckle, “as I have experienced it with my wife.”
“Cancer is a waiting game, we’ve learned,” says caregiver katcadwallader. “A tough waiting game.”
Fortunately, scientists have added some weight to women’s concerns with a new study that argues for faster relaying of results to patients. “For a long time,” said Dr. Elvira V. Lang, author of the study, “there has been the recognition that women should find out sooner what they have, but there was just not much effort put into it. When women just say they’re stressed, there’s a tendency to put it aside as psychological. But once you can show there can be adverse effects on the immune system…then this gets a completely different light on it.”
Specifically, scientists showed that women waiting for the results after a breast biopsy experienced abnormalities in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can damage health and compromise future treatment. The average wait was 2.5 days, though many of the women had to wait five days or longer. Even though the odds are good that everything will be okay—80 percent of biopsies come back with non-cancerous results—women who don’t know the outcome still experience considerable anxiety, which the study showed can influence wound healing and depress the immune system. In fact, waiting for the results was found to be as stressful as getting a cancer diagnosis.
Researchers hope the results will encourage faster analysis and communication of biopsy results. “It’s no longer so easy for healthcare providers to overlook the effects of extended waiting and say, ‘Oh, it’s just nerves,’” said Dr. Lang.
Some doctors are already working to make wait times shorter. Dr. Ronald S. Weinstein, for example—a pathologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson—says, “I am acutely aware of how stressed out women become when they’re waiting for the results of a biopsy.” He’s using a new digital microscopy system that allows him to examine biopsy tissue and diagnose breast cancer within hours instead of weeks.
If you have to go in for a biopsy and want to reduce the stress of your wait time, Dr. Lang recommends you speak to your doctors about communication procedures beforehand. Ask questions about who will tell you about the results, and how long it will take. Schedule the biopsy so you don’t have to wait over the weekend or through a holiday. Finally, consider adopting stress-lowering techniques during the experience, such as meditation, guided imagery, and exercise.
Have you had to wait for days for the results of your biopsy? How did you deal with the stress?
Photo courtesy The Consumerist via Flickr.com.