In the U.S., we dedicate the month of October to Breast Cancer Awareness. Breast cancer and other forms of cancer affect many people’s lives each year. In 2022, roughly 1.9 million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer. An estimated 287,850 women and 2,710 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer, which makes it the most common cancer diagnosis. I want to share my personal story and my firsthand experience from the business side on how to secure life insurance for clients who have defeated cancer or who may be potentially genetically predisposed to developing cancer.
My cancer journey
I have worked in the life insurance industry for more than 25 years. With the experience of reading thousands of medical files, I’ve always been very diligent about my health. I’ve consistently received my yearly physicals, routine mammograms, skin checks and colonoscopy. However, I missed all those appointments in 2020 due to the pandemic. Doctors’ offices did not see patients daily except for emergencies. Additionally, many facilities were closed, including the breast cancer clinic by my house. This caused me, like many others, to postpone all my appointments in 2020.
Fast forward to 2021, things started to settle down a little bit, people were starting to get back to a normal routine, and I started making my doctor's appointments. I went in for a routine mammogram at the beginning of September, which led to an ultrasound, causing a little concern. I was then told I needed a biopsy, which was even more concerning. A couple of days later, I heard the words that nobody ever wants to hear: “You have cancer.” It was extremely frightening, mainly because I watched a very close family member battle his cancer issues during the pandemic. It felt like cancer was all around, and I wasn't escaping it.
I've received chemotherapy, breast conservation surgery and radiation over the past 11 months. I finished treatment in August this year and feel like I'm finally getting on the other side. As one of the 18.1 million cancer survivors in the U.S. (5.4% of the population), I'm putting cancer behind me. But along with my experience comes a deeper appreciation for what our clients with complex medical situations go through every day when looking to purchase life insurance.
Obtaining life insurance
Stories like mine are numerous and impact financial professionals and their clients. The National Cancer Institute’s research shows that advances in medicine will lead to an expected 24% increase in the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. in the next 10 years.
Many people have misunderstandings about securing life insurance after a cancer diagnosis. There is a misconception that once you are diagnosed with cancer, you're ineligible for life insurance. That is not true. Many variables come into play – such as the type of cancer, the age at diagnosis, stage and grade, treatment plan and the date of last treatment. However, it is possible to get insurance after a cancer diagnosis.
Cancer cases are prevalent; I see them almost every day. We've seen a rise in breast cancer cases among women over age 40, but now we're also seeing breast cancer in women a lot younger, including during pregnancy.
We’ve also seen an increase in prostate cancer among men. Additionally, skin cancer and colon cancer are quite common as well. Cancer seems to be all around us, and we see these cases daily.
A 2022 study by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital reveals that incidence of early onset cancers including breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver and pancreas has dramatically increased around the world with the rise beginning around 1990.
Considerations when applying for insurance after a diagnosis
When working with clients who have been diagnosed with cancer, review the following items:
Age of onset. If clients are 40 years old and younger, carriers tend to be more conservative.
The lower the stage, the better.
Type of cancer. Different cancers can have different outcomes and varied factors come into play. In particular, if it is breast cancer, find out whether it's hormone-driven or not.
The treatment plan. For example, for breast cancer, find out if there was a lumpectomy or mastectomy and if chemotherapy or radiation were used. It’s particularly important if there has been lymph node involvement or if the cancer has spread.
Family history of breast cancer is pertinent only if you don’t have it, as the offer classification is based on your probability of getting it. In addition, the best offer you get with a breast cancer diagnosis is Standard rates, and the worst you can be with a family history of breast cancer is Standard.
How does cancer staging affect eligibility?
All cancer is not treated the same and the differences can impact when you are eligible, with staging being a key factor. The higher the stage or the grade, the longer the postponement period, meaning you have to wait a certain amount of time after having cancer before you are eligible for insurance. If the cancer was low-grade cancer, stage zero to one, it is often possible to get insurance right away, especially if there were no node involvement and it hasn't spread anywhere and was confined.
How a brokerage agency can best help with your clients
A life insurance brokerage agency can provide the proper tools to complete field underwriting. Field underwriting is always important to help you get to know all the medical facts up front before bringing that client's case to the table. The brokerage agency can determine which carriers would be more aggressive in underwriting based on the type of cancer your client has. Additionally, there are tools, such as a breast cancer questionnaire, that financial professionals can use. And, of course, brokerage agencies know the products available to clients.
What’s the takeaway?
First: I cannot stress enough the importance of early detection for the cancers we can test for, as many cancers don't have any symptoms or warning signs, so you never know.
Get checked. Get your annual exams, breast exams, prostate exams and colon exams. Skin checks are especially important too. Have your loved ones get checked. Make sure that your family members are doing all they can to get early detection because early detection is truly key. And with early detection, most cancers can be cured, and with early detection and minimal disease progression, most can find options for insurance.
Second: Help your clients get insured early on so they don’t have to worry down the road about the challenges of underwriting with a prior diagnosis, and if they are looking for insurance after dealing with cancer, help them understand the many options that are available in today’s market.
Lisa Arcuria is director, high net worth client support, Crump Life Insurance Services. She may be contacted at [email protected].