Life Insurance with Hairy Cell Leukemia

A cancer diagnosis is scary and can be devastating to anyone. Especially when it’s a rare type of cancer like hairy cell leukemia (HCL).

If you have been diagnosed with HCL, you might think they have no chance of getting life insurance.

While difficult to get approved for life insurance, it’s not impossible. This is true for other forms of cancer as well.

Today we will discuss what HCL is, treatment options, and steps to take to get approved with the best rate.

What is Hairy Cell Leukemia?

Hairy cell leukemia is a rare and slow-growing type of blood cancer which begins in the bone marrow. It is a type of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and is sometimes called Leukemic Reticuloendotheliosis.

Hairy cell leukemia happens when the bone marrow creates too many B cells, also called lymphocytes. The B cells are white blood cells which help fight infections. As the B cells continue to form, less healthy platelets, red, and white blood cells are able to form.

When looked at under a microscope, the leukemia cells look as though they have hairs attached.

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), HCL affects roughly 6,000 Americans. There are up to 800 new cases diagnosed each year and it affects men four times more than women. The most common diagnosis is in men over 50 but can be found in people as young as 20.

Doctors are still unsure of what exactly causes hairy cell leukemia in affected patients.


Some people have no symptoms of HCL prior to receiving a diagnosis. They may have gotten a blood test done for other reasons and it was found that way. It is a chronic illness that may not completely resolve, even with medical intervention.

For others, the symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • A feeling of fullness in the stomach/below the ribs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Infections or fever that recur
  • Bruising or bleeding more easily than normal
  • Lumps in the neck, groin, abdomen or armpit area that are usually painless

Treatment Options

Since hairy cell leukemia is a slow-growing form of leukemia, treatment is not always advised upon diagnosis.

Once advised, the following options are considered on a case by case basis:

  • Watch and wait – this may seem surprising, but due to HCL being slow growing, doctors will initially take a watch and wait approach. The leukemia may not grow or take some time to reach a point of where action is needed.
  • Medication – usually the first course of action. Chemotherapy drug cladribine has shown as much as an 85 percent chance of complete remission in affected patients. There are other drugs that can be used as well for those who do not respond to other therapies. Pentostatin and Lumoxiti are most often prescribed for those patients.
  • Surgery – a splenectomy, or surgical removal of the spleen, may be considered for some patients.
  • Immunotherapy – a type of therapy that is used to boost the immune system in hopes that it will work to destroy the cancer cells. This therapy is also called biologic therapy.
  • Targeted therapy – this type of therapy focuses on attacking cancer cells in the body but does not harm healthy cells. The most common type of targeted therapy is monoclonal antibody therapy. Lab created immune cells are injected to identify and attach to cancer cells. They then destroy the cells, reduce risk of spreading or inhibit growth.
  • Clinical Trials – for those who do not respond to other types of treatment, clinical trials may be an option. This is especially true for those who have certain mutations or resistance to other methods. There are trials for every stage of HCL and can be started before other treatments have been tried.

Applying for Life Insurance with Hairy Cell Leukemia

If you haven’t been in remission for at least 24 months, we strongly advise you wait to apply. You will almost be guaranteed a denial on a traditional life insurance application. Your goal when applying is to show that even though you once had HCL, you are now healthy and can prove it.

When you are ready to apply for life insurance, be prepared to answer a lot of questions if you had HCL.

Besides the standard health questions on a traditional life insurance application, you’ll need to answer the following:

  • When were you diagnosed?
  • What stage were you diagnosed?
  • What treatment plan were you prescribed?
  • Have you had a recurrence? If so, when?
  • Do you have a family history of cancer?
  • What are the test results from your most recent complete blood count (CBC) panel?
  • Do you have any other health issues?
  • Are you a smoker?

You should also be prepared to provide information for all your doctors including your:

  • Primary care physician
  • Oncologist
  • Immunologist
  • Any other doctor you may be seeing for this or other health concerns

Preparing for the Exam

When applying for traditional life insurance, the next step after applying is to schedule a medical exam.

You’ll either go to a lab facility or have a nurse come to your home to complete the exam. They will confirm your medical information from the application, and take your vitals, blood, and urine.

If you haven’t had a CBC test done in the last six months, it’s a good idea to have it done. You’ll want to reach out to your own doctor to order the test before your medical exam. This type of blood test is not done as part of the exam.

Why would you want to get the CBC panel done?

Well, when applying for life insurance after an HCL diagnosis, you want to prove how healthy you are now. One way to do that is to show your current blood counts. Platelet and blood counts in a healthy range will prove that you are still in remission without recurrence.

These types of tests can make a difference and help an underwriter approve your application.

This is especially true when you see study results like this. Of 13 individuals who applied for life insurance, 10 were table rated or denied. This happened even for some who made healthy lifestyle changes after hairy cell leukemia.

Life Insurance with Hairy Cell Leukemia

What Rate Can I Expect for Life Insurance with Hairy Cell Leukemia?

Preferred Plus

This rate is reserved for the healthiest of individuals. Regardless of how far in remission you are without recurrence, you will not qualify for this rate.


Like the preferred plus rating, don’t expect to qualify for this rate either.


While very unlikely, you have a small chance of getting approved for this rate. You have to be in great current health, in remission for at least five years or have other health issues. You also cannot be a smoker after having had hairy cell leukemia.

Substandard/Table Rating

The most likely rating you will receive. The rating will be determined by the underwriter reviewing your case. An A rating is the least expensive and a J rating is the most expensive.

While a table rating is not ideal because it increases the life insurance premium, it is better than a denial.


A denial for life insurance is a real possibility after a hairy cell leukemia diagnosis. Especially if you didn’t wait at least two years from the time you were diagnosed.

If you are a smoker or have other health issues, even in HCL remission, you can still be denied. If you are worried about being denied, make sure to check out our tips below to help you get approved.

Tips for Getting Approved for Life Insurance with Hairy Cell Leukemia

Here are some tips that can help you get approved for life insurance. Even though your chances of approval are slimmer, it’s not out of the question.

Get Tested

We already mentioned this tip already, but it’s important so we’ll mention it again. If you plan to apply for traditional life insurance, make sure you have a complete blood panel test done. Especially if your last one hasn’t been within the last six months.

Prior to applying, have the test done and wait for your results. Depending on what your CBC is, it can give you a good idea if you are able to be approved.

Work with an Agent

When you have health issues, a knowledgeable insurance agent can make all the difference in getting approved.

Giving them a complete idea of your current health and past issues, plus current test results help your chances. They are able to find a life insurance company in their network that has experience with an HCL diagnosis.

Those companies are the ones who will look at your case most favorably and increase your odds of being approved. Not only approved but potentially a better rating than other companies, saving you money as well.

The best part about working with a life insurance agent? It is completely FREE to you.

Ready to apply? Make sure to speak with one of our agents first to find the best life insurance company who will work with you.

Quit Smoking

This is a tip we offer in almost all of our articles. Why?

Even perfectly healthy people get a higher life insurance rate if they are a smoker. For someone like you with a health issue in the past, smoking can be the factor that gets you denied.

Don’t risk a denial due to your smoking habit. Quit today. It will not only save you money on your life insurance but also on cigarettes, chewing tobacco or vape cartridges.

Yes, even people who vape are considered smokers. Most vapes include some nicotine, which will indicate you are a smoker even if you don’t smoke cigarettes.

Unsure you can quit on your own? Here are some great tips from the American Cancer Society to get you started.

Get Healthy

This is another tip we advise of on many articles. The fact is, the healthier you are, the better your life insurance rate.

So get ready to evaluate your lifestyle. Plan to be active at least 30 minutes a day. Some ideas for being active – take a brisk walk, play with the kids, go for a bike ride.

Getting healthy also includes eating right. Put down the processed and sugary foods. Opt for whole foods with lots of fruits and vegetables. Choosing seafood or poultry over red meat are also great ways to slim your waistline.

If you have kids, these changes might be more difficult. But it will improve your life and the life of your kids. Plus, you can get better rates for your life insurance which will save you money on the premium. You can put that extra money towards activities or your new and healthier food budget.

Follow your Doctors Orders

Whatever treatment plan your doctor put in place, make sure you follow it. If you are now in remission, you most likely did, which is great for you.

One of the questions asked is what you were prescribed. If you didn’t follow the protocol, it increases your chances of denial.

Don’t let this happen to you. Work with your doctor to make sure you are following what they advise.

What Can I Do if I was Denied?

If you were denied for traditional life insurance, you have other options for coverage.

Simplified issue life insurance does not require a medical exam and has less medical questions. It is more expensive than traditional life insurance because of this but offers coverage until you can get approved.

There is also guaranteed issue life insurance. If you can’t get approved for the simplified issue, then this is your next best option. It is more expensive with fewer coverage options but can give you some type of coverage.

Once you are in better health, you can reapply for traditional life insurance. If you get approved, you can choose to keep the other policy or cancel it.

When you’re ready to get some life insurance rates, you can enter your information to get a quote right here.