Waiting for medical test results is extremely stressful much more than the nature of diagnosis.
"Not knowing your diagnosis is a very serious stressor," said Elvira V. Lang, associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass.
"It can be as serious as knowing that you have malignant disease or need to undergo a possibly risky treatment."
Of the 214 women, 112 were awaiting breast biopsy, a diagnostic procedure to investigate a suspicious lump in the breast; 42 were awaiting hepatic chemoembolization, a treatment for liver cancer; and 60 were awaiting uterine fibroid embolization, a treatment for uterine myoma or benign fibroids.
Breast biopsy patients reported significantly higher levels of anxiety than chemoembolization patients and fibroid embolization patients.
"These results really drive the point home that the distress of not knowing your diagnosis is serious," Lang said.
"We believe that healthcare providers and patients are not fully aware of this and may downplay the emotional toll of having a diagnostic exam."
According to Dr. Lang, simple steps can be taken to alleviate patient stress prior to a procedure.
"Training the medical team in how to talk to patients makes a huge difference. This can diffuse tension right away and can help patients to shape expectations in a more helpful fashion."
The study will be presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.