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The Challenge of Finding Life Insurance After a Cancer Diagnosis

Finding life insurance for cancer patients is a challenge that many people face, in the United States as well as elsewhere.

According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the leading cause of death, accounting for more that thirteen percent of all deaths every year. It occurs everywhere but most cases occur in Europe and the Americas.

The Challenge of Finding Life Insurance After a Cancer Diagnosis

One important statistic from the American cancer Society: one and a half million individuals in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease in 2009. Roughly 33 percent of those who are diagnosed with cancer die from it, this figure varies greatly depending on the type of cancer and the stage it is at when diagnosed; as a result of this relatively high level of risk, many life insurance companies are unwilling to take on cancer patients. The task of finding life insurance for those who have had a cancer diagnosis is therefore challenging, but it is not impossible to accomplish.

What Factors Affect the Ease of Getting Life Insurance After Cancer?

The two most common types of cancer are breast cancer for women and prostate cancer for men. The ways in which these and other cancers affect people’s lives and their respective prognoses are very different. How life insurance companies evaluate cancer patients is largely dependent on the prognosis in their particular case.

Insurers go by sources of information like the Survival, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database from the National Cancer Institutes to determine the likelihood of the patient’s recovery and thus their own level of risk. While some companies will deny coverage instantly, others may be willing to look at the facts of a particular case before making a decision. The factors considered in that decision include:

  • The time of the cancer’s initial diagnosis.
  • The type of cancer.
  • The type of treatments undergone.
  • Signs of the cancer’s return.
  • Length of time in remission (if applicable).

There are certain cancers and cancer-stages, that may be viewed in a more favorable light than others. For example, if a woman has stage one breast cancer, she may be viewed as being more insurable than a woman with stage two or higher. Likewise, an individual has been diagnosed with more than one type of cancer may also face some difficulty in getting life insurance coverage.

If the cancer has been in remission for a significant length of time, five years in most cases, the life insurance company may be more willing to provide coverage. In recent years, many insurance companies have been actively updating their policies to keep pace with advances in medicine. As the life expectancy of those with certain cancers continues to improve, so will their ability to get life insurance.

Finding Life Insurance for Cancer Patients

Life insurance companies are in business to make a profit, and it is simply bad business for them to insure a person with a low life expectancy. Those who had a policy prior to their diagnosis can expect their coverage to continue, those who are looking for a policy after diagnosis will have a harder time. Whether or not a person’s cancer is in remission, they will still face greater scrutiny than someone who has never been diagnosed with the disease. The insurance companies who are willing to insure them will typically provide lower benefits and charge higher premiums as a means of mitigating the risk that they are undertaking.

Accelerated Benefits and Other Reasons to Get Life Insurance

In some cases, it is possible for the insured to get some benefits from their coverage while they are still alive, life insurance can help to defray the cost of treatment and provide living expenses while a cancer patient may be ill and unable to work. This is available from certain insurers in the form of accelerated benefits provisions.

Another way that insured cancer patients may be able to get benefits while they are still alive is by selling their policy to a third party. This process is called "viatication" and is a means for people with terminal illnesses who are strapped for cash to find money to improve their circumstances or to pay for treatment. The buyer of the policy will pay less than the policy’s full payout, in return, the seller gets cash while they are still alive.


Aside from this, the standard reasons for getting life insurance apply to cancer patients as well; namely, as a means of support for loved ones after death. In many cases, a spouse may not be able to provide for themselves or any other dependents on their own; there is also the expense of a funeral to consider. Life insurance affords a family the financial security to continue on after it has lost a breadwinner.In order to get covered, a cancer patient may have to commit to certain lifestyle changes.

Among the most important is that smokers stop smoking. Continuing to smoke is one of the main reasons that life insurance for cancer patients is often denied. They should also be willing to lose weight and start exercising if they are obese. These things lower the risk of an imminent death; therefore, when combined with a significant period without a recurrence of the cancer they may make life insurance companies more willing to provide coverage.


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