One of the most common questions I get from clients is “can I get life insurance with a history of breast cancer?”
It makes sense that this question is so common; according to the CDC, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, and 1 in 8 are likely to develop this cancer at some point in her life. Also, please note that men are susceptible to breast cancer as well.
These numbers are staggering; if you’re reading this, the chances are that someone you know will develop breast cancer. While this is definitely cause for alarm, the good news is that, because of breakthroughs in the detection, management and treatment of breast cancer, survival rates for the disease are incredibly high.
Unfortunately, despite good survival rates, the commonality of breast cancer still makes a candidate with the disease a risk in the eyes of life insurance companies.
So: can you get life insurance with a breast cancer diagnosis or a history of the disease? Absolutely. But there are a few things you’ll need to know before you apply for life insurance.
Underwriting Breast Cancer
As you already know, it is the job of an underwriter to allow a company to take on the most risk possible without losing profit. Insurance companies generally utilize four risk classification:
Standard, Preferred, Substandard and Decline. Each of these risk classes compares a client’s mortality risk to the mortality risk of the average person in his or her age group.
Now, some insurance companies will provide insurance to an individual with a disease, hobby or career that increases their risk. These carriers are called “high risk” insurers.
An individual diagnosed with breast cancer – despite the breakthroughs in treatment and management of the disease – will be considered a high risk client.
High risk doesn’t always have to mean higher premiums.
Because there have been so many technological advancements in the medical field, the insurance industry and the way insurers assess risk has had to evolve. Now, underwriters look at several key factors about your disease and your lifestyle to accurately paint a picture of your risk.
Normally, with cancer underwriting, underwriters will assess the grade, stage and tumor type, then will classify an applicant accordingly.
This makes sense, as the prognosis for a woman with breast cancer also depends on these key factors: size and type of the tumor, how many lymph nodes were affected by the cancer, the spread of the tumor and the presence of progesterone or estrogen binding receptor sites and a family history of cancer.
However, the underwriting of breast cancer is also going to heavily depend on the treatment options and the differentiation of the tumors.
To underwriters and insurers, breast cancer is a “chronic disease.” This means that there is a high probability that the cancer will recur.
In spite of this, there is a lot of flexibility to underwriting breast cancer. This is due – in large part – the vast number of treatment options available and the way insurers assess risk in general.
Treatment and Life Insurance
The type of treatment a woman chooses will heavily impact her risk and the likelihood that the cancer will return. Some of the most common types of treatment include:
- Partial mastectomy. This type of breast cancer treatment involves removing a portion of the breast and the lymph nodes that extend to the armpits.
- Lumpectomy, which is designed to remove the tumor and the surrounding tissue
- Radiation therapy, in which high-energy radiation is given – either internally or externally – to shrink the tumors and kill any remaining cell. This type of treatment is traditionally only used to treat cancerous tumors that are larger than 5cm or cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes.
- Radical mastectomy, in which the entire breast is removed, along with the chest muscles and the lymph nodes.
- Modified radical mastectomy. This form of treatment also removes the breast and the lymph nodes, but does not remove the underlying chest muscle
- Excisional biopsies are biopsies that remove the tumor and a small part of the surrounding tissue. This type of surgery is the least invasive.
- Bone marrow transplants are used when patients choose aggressive forms of chemotherapy, which can also kill healthy cells
- Chemotherapy is a treatment option that can be used before surgery to shrink a tumor or after surgical treatments in order to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.
- Hormone treatments, such as Tamoxifen, reduces the risk that the cancer will recur after surgery. The side effects of this type of treatment can include blood clots and increase your risk of other types of cancers.
The type of treatment a woman chooses will depend on the differentiation of the tumor. Tumor differentiation refers to the presence of hormone binding receptor sites as well as how close to normal the tumor’s cells appear to be.
Hormone binding receptor sites communicate to the cancer cells and tell them how to behave. These sites are responsible for the metastasis of the cancer and, therefore, the type of treatment chosen.
While some types of treatments are more likely to lower your life insurance risk, it is important to know that you should never choose a type of treatment based on this factor. You and your doctor should discuss in detail the treatment options available and most advantageous to treating your cancer.
Remember when we said that all insurers view risk differently? Treatment options are a big component to how an underwriter will assess your risk. For example, some carriers may view hormone therapies favorably because of the risks associated with radial surgeries, whereas other carriers will be more likely to cover an individual who has undergone surgical treatment at a low premium.
Find The Best Insurance For You
In order to find the best insurance for you, you should work with an independent agent.
Because all insurance companies view treatment risks through different lenses, you will need to know which carriers are automatically going to consider you a candidate for coverage.
An independent agent will have this information at his or her fingertips, and will be able to accurately communicate your risk to insurance companies. If you have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, undergone treatment or have a history of breast cancer, give me a call today to see how I can help you find the best insurance possible.