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Cancer survivors and insurance

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If you’ve had cancer, can you still be approved for life insurance?  While there is no simple response, there is a good chance the answer is yes.  Many people assume having a cancer history is an automatic decline for insurance but that isn’t always the case.  Depending on the cancer, it may be easier than you think. 

Not all people with a history of cancer can qualify for life insurance but depending on a number of factors, and thanks to medical advancements many now can.  Despite a significant increase in cancer diagnoses, cancer treatments are rapidly evolving.  Improved treatments mean long term survival rates and life expediencies after a cancer diagnosis are on the rise.

The 2018 Canadian Cancer Statistics Report from the Canadian Cancer Society and Statistics Canada in indicate that one in two Canadians are expected to receive a cancer diagnosis.  This has climbed from one in three as reported a few decades ago.  This trend is expected to continue.  Experts estimate that the number of cancers diagnosed in 2030 will be roughly 80 per cent higher than those diagnosed in 2005.

On the flip side, while the incidence of cancer is up, mortality is down.  Cancer is now being considered a disease of aging.  For many, it has become a chronic disease of survivors rather than a one-time fatal disease.  Survival rates have risen and today 60 per cent of people are expected to survive a cancer diagnosis.  As time goes on, a greater percentage of our population will be living their lives as cancer survivors.

No longer a certain death sentence, these increased survival rates have changed the face of life insurance underwriting where cancer is concerned.  When underwriters consider life insurance offerings, these survival rates change how insurance is priced and underwritten for cancer survivors relative to years past.

Karen Cutler, vice president and head underwriter for Manulife’s Retail and Affinity Markets shared with the Insurance Journal’s special report on cancer and insurance: a changing outlook in October 2018, “The great news is that people have had the appropriate treatment… from an underwriting perspective a lot more people who have had a diagnosis of cancer are insurable than even would have been the case five to seven years ago.”

There is an ever increasing number of cancer survivors who are insurable, but there is no one size fits all solution where insurance underwriting is concerned.  There are many variables and statistics that go into the research and calculations for insurance pricing and acceptance parameters.  Insurance rates charged for various types of cancer history are created based on a number of different factors including:

  • Age at diagnosis
  • Stage of cancer
  • Five year cancer survival statistics
  • Type of treatment
  • Family history
  • Compliance with follow up recommendations

For some cancers, you will need to be cancer free for five years before you can be considered, while others are down to two years.  Others, like prostate cancer in men under age 60 are even sooner than that.

The days of assuming you will be declined for life insurance if you’ve been previously diagnosed with cancer are gone.  A decline will still be the case for some cancers, but for many others the opportunity exists.  As medical science evolves and helps us live longer lives post cancer, so too does the life insurance industry evolve to create offerings for the many people now living lives long after their cancer diagnosis.

If this is something you have been wondering about for you or your loved ones, talk to your insurance or financial advisor today to see if you could qualify.


This column appears in This Month in Elgin April 2019 edition.


Stephanie Farrow, B.A., CFP., Stephanie has over 25 years’ experience in the financial services industry, a diploma in Financial Planning from the Canadian Institute of Financial Planning and Certified Financial Planner designation.  Stephanie has been writing a financial column for local business magazine Elgin This Month/This Month in Elgin since 2010.  Stephanie and her husband Ken Farrow own Farrow Financial Services Inc.  About our Farrow Financial Team.

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