Life Insurance & Breast Cancer

Health

Are you a person with breast cancer who’s looking for life insurance? Let’s talk about what you can expect when applying for it.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Canadian women, with the exception of non-melanoma skin cancer. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime and 1 in 33 will die of it.

If you’re a breast cancer survivor, you may think that life insurance is out of reach because of your medical condition. But the good news is that this isn’t always the case.

Why does breast cancer matter to life insurance companies?

As you probably know, life insurers care about the chances that you’ll pass away during the term of your life insurance policy, especially the chances that you’ll die when you’re still young. Why? Because it raises the likelihood that they’ll have to pay out your death benefit. And that’s a cost for them.

How breast cancer affects life expectancy

Breast cancer accounts for 13% of all cancer deaths in Canadian women. But its impact on life expectancy depends on the type of breast cancer a woman has.

Breast cancers are divided into two types: in situ cancers and invasive cancers.

In situ cancers are localized and don’t invade surrounding tissues. Once adequately treated, they don’t have any impact on mortality.

In comparison, invasive cancers, if left untreated, will eventually travel (metastasize) to other areas of the body. They carry a poorer prognosis and have a substantial impact on mortality.

Here’s how insurers think about the risk associated with breast cancer.

Life insurance decision based on breast cancer stage

The tables below show the risk levels for a person with diabetes (depending on their breast cancer stage and the number of years since diabetes was diagnosed). Note that the key word here is “average."

1–2 years since diagnosis 3–4 years since diagnosis 5–6 years since diagnosis 7+ years since diagnosis
Stage I PostponeSevereMildStandard
Stage II PostponePostponePostponeMild
Stage III DeclineDeclineDeclineDecline
Stage IV DeclineDeclineDeclineDecline

The above is based on Welcome to Know the Risk, an educational website that contains valuable medical and non-medical underwriting information for insurance professionals. It’s available exclusively to advisors affiliated with PPI Financial Group.

The general approach to rating insurance applicants with invasive cancer is to postpone any offer in the immediate years following the diagnosis. After this period, insurance companies usually apply a price increase for an additional number of years after diagnosis (sometimes 5–10 years). Once these years have elapsed, the insurer may offer a standard policy.

What is a life insurance postponement? Well, the good news is that the life insurance application wasn’t flat-out denied. This means that the company still thinks there’s a chance they could approve the application in the future. For now, however, they’re taking a “wait and see approach" (and will usually ask the applicant to reapply in 1–2 years).

Here are the approximate 5-year survival rates based on breast cancer stages:

Stage 0 Nearly 100%
Stage I 98%
Stage IIA 88%
Stage IIB 76%
Stage IIIA 56%
Stage IIIB 49%
Stage IV 16%

The above is based on Welcome to Know the Risk, an educational website that contains valuable medical and non-medical underwriting information for insurance professionals. It’s available exclusively to advisors affiliated with PPI.

What do life insurance prices look like for someone with a history of breast cancer?

In most cases, you’ll see an increase in price from the original quote. This can be anywhere from 150%–350%.

What happens if you get declined for life insurance?

You won’t be out of options! The Canada Protection Plan (CPP) is the leading provider of simplified and no-medical life insurance policies in Canada. It offers many options for people who haven’t been able to get insurance in the past. This may be a good fit for you.

Alternatively, look into whether you can get any coverage through your employer. In group plans, there are little-to-no hurdles to be approved for coverage, which works in your favour. Who knew that your employer could end up saving the day?

Life insurance quotes for breast cancer survivors

There are many places to get life insurance quotes. Many companies even offer instant life insurance quotes online.

But remember, these quotes are based on only 3 factors: your smoking status, your age, and your gender. They aren’t personalized to your specific health situation. So you’ll still need to undergo life insurance underwriting to get your personalized price for life insurance.

The underwriting process for breast cancer survivors

When it comes to clients with extensive medical histories, we find that it usually takes a bit longer to get approved for life insurance. (Expect it to take 4–6 weeks.)

Your insurer will likely want to look into details of your medical history (preferably from your treating oncologist), pathology reports, and follow-up reports. The pathology report is an essential piece of information, particularly if you were diagnosed with cancer in the past 10 years.

The final word

Don’t get discouraged if you’re a breast cancer survivor looking for life insurance! Applying for life insurance is a no-cost, no-commitment process. And you don’t have to make a final decision until you get your final price from your life insurance company.

So remember that when you’re shopping for life insurance, the most important thing is to never assume that you’re uninsurable.

PolicyMe’s editorial content is meant for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical, legal, or financial advice.