According to recent data, about one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in her life. Overall, breast cancer is the most diagnosed form of cancer for women, which translates to over 250,000 new cases every year.
If you are diagnosed with this disease, the impact can be overwhelming at first, and it can affect so many facets of your life. While there will be plenty of priorities for you, one of them might just be life insurance. At first, getting life insurance with breast cancer may seem impossible, but once you understand more about the condition (and your policy options), you’ll discover that coverage is within reach.
So, with that in mind, we want to take a closer look at how breast cancer will affect your ability to obtain life insurance. You want your family to be financially protected no matter what, so knowing your options is the first step toward getting some peace of mind.
Can I Get Life Insurance After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis?
The short answer to this question is, unfortunately, no. If you are currently undergoing treatment or haven’t even started yet, then you won’t be able to get any kind of traditional life insurance. Fortunately, though, although breast cancer does affect about 12 percent of the female population, its remission rate is remarkably high, especially with early detection.
Another positive sign is that insurance companies are much better about providing life insurance for women post-treatment, meaning that once you get through the disease, you should be able to get a favorable policy. There are a few reasons for this, including better cancer detection practices, as well as more comprehensive medical exams for insurers.
What If I Have Life Insurance Already and Get Breast Cancer?
If you already have life insurance when you’re diagnosed, the good news is that your policy should cover you if the cancer does become life-threatening. As a rule, life insurance plans will pay out for most diseases that are beyond your control, like breast cancer. Other conditions like obesity or high blood pressure, however, can raise your premiums.
While you can rest assured that you are still covered after a diagnosis, keep in mind that life insurance plans won’t offer financial assistance for things like medical bills or other expenses related to the disease. If you have whole life insurance, you might be able to borrow against the cash value to help pay for cancer-related costs, but you will need to talk with your insurance agent about specifics and limitations.
One thing that you may want to consider when buying a policy is adding a critical illness rider to your plan. This add-on will help cover non-medical expenses, such as travel costs, experimental treatments, and childcare. You likely won’t be able to get this after your diagnosis, but it’s worth looking into while you’re still healthy. Also, not all insurance companies will offer this type of coverage, so keep that in mind as well.
How to Get Life Insurance After Breast Cancer Treatment
As we mentioned, treating and beating breast cancer is relatively common. According to data, the five-year survival rate for invasive cancer is 90 percent. The 10-year survival rate is 83 percent. If the cancer cells are only located in the breast, that rate jumps to 99 percent.
Overall, there’s a good chance that you’ll go into remission, which means that your life insurance options will open up after treatment has finished. Let’s look at the different variables that insurers pay attention to so that you know what to expect when searching for a policy.
Age of Diagnosis
Typically speaking, insurance companies want to provide coverage for low-risk individuals. So, the longer you have been in remission (cancer-free), the better your options are. For example, if you were diagnosed and treated 10 years ago, you may be able to get a standard or preferred rate. If your diagnosis was only three years ago and you just finished treatment, you will likely pay higher premiums.
The reason for the disparity is that insurers want to make sure that you won’t relapse. The longer you have been without cancer, the less likely that it will return. In some cases, insurance companies may charge a higher rate at first, but then reduce your premiums once you’ve reached a particular milestone (i.e., five years in remission).
Stage of Breast Cancer
There are four stages of breast cancer, and each one can affect both your diagnosis and your ability to get preferred insurance rates. Stage zero refers to non-invasive cancers that remain in the original location (i.e., the milk duct). Stage four breast cancer means that it has spread to other parts of the body, and is much harder to treat.
To help determine your stage, your doctor will use the TNM system. TNM is a standardized method of diagnosis to ensure that all breast cancer patients receive adequate care. This system also helps physicians understand how the disease spreads and allows them to compare cases more effectively.
TNM stands for:
- T=Tumor – its size and location are measured, as well as whether or not it’s spread to nearby tissue
- N=Nodes – whether the cancer has entered the lymph nodes
- M=Movement – whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body
When calculating a patient’s TNM rating, doctors will add numbers to each letter to signify the severity of each category. As a rule, the higher the number, the more advanced the stage. For example, if cancer cells did enter the lymph nodes, you will likely be in stage one or two. Also, the size of the tumor can be a significant factor, as larger tumors can lead to advanced spreading of the disease.
Overall, your insurance company will want to know as much about your diagnosis as possible so that they can determine your level of risk. Even if you are in remission, a higher stage could increase your premiums.
Type of Breast Cancer
While the stage of your cancer relates to whether or not the cells have spread, there are also various types of this disease. Some variations of breast cancer are much less risky than others, so insurance companies may offer more favorable rates based on this information. Here is a quick breakdown.
- Ductal Carcinoma – cancer cells inside the milk ducts
- Lobular Carcinoma – cancer inside the breast lobules, which produce milk
Both of these carcinomas can be invasive or non-invasive (a.k.a., In-Situ). If they are in situ, then you will likely have stage zero breast cancer.
- Triple-Negative Cancer – in this case, the cells are much more aggressive, and they will spread to other parts of the body quickly without treatment. Triple-negative cancer accounts for roughly 15 percent of all cases, and it’s much harder to remove.
- Inflammatory Breast Cancer – this type is much less common, accounting for about one to five percent of all cases. IBC can make the breasts look red and inflamed, due to the cancer cells blocking lymph vessels.
Other Forms of Breast Cancer
There are a few other, even rarer kinds of breast cancer as well, and they will affect different parts of the breast. These types include:
- Paget Disease of the Breast – in addition to ductal carcinoma, the cancer cells will affect the nipple and areola. Paget disease accounts for about one to three percent of all cases.
- Angiosarcoma – this type is one of the rarest, accounting for less than one percent of all breast cancer cases. In this instance, the cells develop in blood or lymph vessels. One risk factor can be radiation therapy of the breast to treat a different form of cancer.
- Phyllodes Tumors – unlike other cancers that form in the ducts or breast lobules, these tumors develop in the connective tissue of the breasts. Typically, Phyllodes tumors are benign, but they can be malignant in rare cases.
Age and Relative Health
The two most critical factors that can affect breast cancer are sex (being a woman) and age. The older you get, the more likely you will get diagnosed with the disease. On top of that, obtaining life insurance after age 50 is more of a challenge with or without breast cancer.
If you have other health problems (i.e., high blood pressure, heart disease), those things will increase your premiums no matter what. If you have these issues on top of a cancer diagnosis, it can raise those rates even higher.
As a general rule, you want to obtain life insurance at a relatively young age. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to get reasonable rates, and you might not be able to get the amount of coverage you want.
According to data, a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative who contracted the disease. Immediate family members like sisters or mothers are considered first-degree, so distant relatives don’t count. However, if there is a history of breast cancer in your family at all, it can increase your risk regardless.
Breast Cancer Treatment
Finally, insurers will want to make sure that your breast cancer won’t return, so they will pay close attention to the kind of treatment you received. Let’s look at the most common options available for breast cancer patients.
For cancer cells that are in situ (non-invasive), surgery can sometimes be a good choice. In some cases, a small section of the breast will be removed, with the surrounding tissue reshaped afterward. If the whole breast is removed, that is called a mastectomy.
In many instances, cancer cells need certain hormones to grow and develop. This treatment blocks the cells from getting those hormones so that they stop growing and, potentially, go away altogether.
Several types of medicine can shrink or kill cancer cells. Typically, this medication comes in the form of pills, although it can be administered through an IV instead.
Some cancer cells can be killed by using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays). Generally speaking, radiation therapy happens in a series of visits to remove the cancer altogether.
In some cases, patients may be able to receive treatment that helps their immune system fight the cancer cells naturally. This kind of therapy is much less common, and it may be considered an “experimental” treatment. Right now, biological treatment is mostly relegated to clinical trials, but more and more research is being done to make it a widespread alternative to traditional cancer removal methods.
Going to a Cancer Treatment Center
While many hospitals are equipped to help patients deal with cancer, a lot of patients will get referred to a cancer treatment center instead. These organizations are unique because they only focus on cancer, not other diseases like a traditional hospital or clinic.
The downside, however, is that these centers are not as widespread, meaning that you will likely have to travel out of state to visit one. However, successful treatments are much more common at these facilities, so it’s usually worth the travel costs and expenses.
Ongoing Treatment and Checkups
When dealing with cancer, it’s rarely a one-time situation. You will need to follow up with your doctor to make sure that your treatment is going smoothly, as well as to ensure that the cancer won’t return. It’s crucial that you maintain these checkups, both for your health and your insurance premiums. Insurers want to see that you are being proactive about staying in remission. Otherwise, your rates could go up.
Bottom Line: Getting Life Insurance With Breast Cancer is Possible
One of the best things you can do to find a better rate is to compare policies and companies. Fortunately, at NextGen Life Insurance, we make it easy for you. Contact us today to find out how we can help you get the coverage that you and your loved ones deserve. Don’t let breast cancer defeat you; let it define you.