Sun & Skin News

The Mind-Skin Stress Connection, Part 2: Waiting on Biopsy Results?

By Skin Cancer Foundation • June 10, 2021
Jen Singer and family hiking in Sedona

Does your state of mind affect your skin health, or does your skin health affect your state of mind? The link works both ways! In part 1, learn from our experts, who explain the mechanism of this complex relationship and how to mitigate the damage. In part 2, hear from a cancer survivor who shares from experience how to maintain your equilibrium while waiting for a diagnosis—and whatever comes next.

By Jen Singer

Waiting for biopsy results that may lead to a cancer diagnosis is a type of worry that only those of us who’ve gone through it can understand. Tom Petty was right when he sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.” For me, it was stage III non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I had a tumor in my left lung. I would have to face chemo and radiation therapy that would test me in different ways, but even now, after 13 years in remission, I still remember how powerless I felt before hearing that diagnosis.

If you’ve been suspected of having skin cancer, you know all about the waiting. Even if you’ve had more than one, it doesn’t get easier. Because my radiation treatments left the skin on my chest inflamed, it increased my odds of getting skin cancer. In fact, I’ve already been diagnosed with an actinic keratosis (AK), a common kind of precancer that can lead to squamous cell carcinoma. My dermatologist removed the pearly lesion from the base of my neck and gave me a topical chemotherapy ointment fittingly called 5-FU, LOL. (It makes you a little sore and scabby but is nothing like the systemic kind of chemo; trust me.)

I’d thought it was all behind me, but odds are, I’ll have more AKs, so I need to remain diligent about checking my skin and visiting my dermatologist, and I’ll likely have to await more biopsy results. When I do, I will abide by some tips I learned from my previous cancer experience. Maybe they will help you, too.

  1. Ask how you’ll hear. Be sure to ask your doctor how long it will take to get results from the lab (most skin biopsies take about a week) and how you’ll receive your results. Will a nurse or a doctor call, or will it be posted in the online patient portal? Knowing the process can reduce anxiety while you wait.
  2. Get a sense of what to expect. At the time of your biopsy, ask your doctor what happens next if you do receive a diagnosis of skin cancer. What type of treatment might be required, and what might the recovery entail? The more you know, the more you can control your reaction and mitigate the worry.
  3. Be thoughtful about who you tell. People mean well, but some don’t know how to support others in a useful way, because they’re an Eeyore or Tigger type. You remember those characters: Eeyores see the glass as half-empty, and they worry for you and your results. They may share dire statistics and worst-case scenarios that likely don’t even apply to you. Tiggers, on the other hand, believe that your positive attitude will see you through, leaving no room for your very valid fears. You’re better off with a Winnie-the-Pooh, someone who just puts their arm around your shoulder and patiently waits with you. Come to think of it, this is good advice not only while waiting on biopsy results, but also throughout any diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Trust your instincts. Do you prefer to wait in private, distracting yourself with work or fun? Do you like to hash it out with trusted friends, or do research online so that you have as much information as possible when you get your results? There’s no one way to endure the waiting — or what might come afterward — but make sure it’s the one that works for you.

Jen Singer is a health writer based near New York City.

Featured in The 2021 Skin Cancer Foundation Journal