Life, and Insurance, After Breast Cancer
Breast cancer strikes fear in women's hearts. It is the leading cause of cancer in
women, with 207,090 women expected to be diagnosed with the disease this year alone, and
is expected to claim the lives of more than 40,000 women in 2010, according to the American
Cancer Society. Many of its victims are scarred by the trauma of going through treatments
and possibly losing part of their womanhood.
But there is cause for hope. The likelihood of surviving the disease and subsequently
getting life insurance has improved over the last several years.
As a result of earlier detection, improved treatment and decreased incidence, death
rates from breast cancer have been steadily decreasing since 1999, according to Cancer Facts
& Figures 2010-Atlanta: American Cancer Society report.
Survivors can obtain life insurance after they've been successfully treated for the
disease. How long after depends on a number of factors including the stage or severity of the
cancer, whether it spread to other organs and if it is a repeat cancer, says Anna Hart, principal
and consulting underwriter with ARH Consulting in Eastland, Tex.
Treatment and follow-up is key
"Those with small, early stage, good risk breast cancer can get life insurance as soon
as they have completed treatment and had a follow-up visit. For a later stage breast cancer,
the postpone period may be 2-5 years. For more advanced breast cancer and recurrent breast
cancer, the postpone period may be 5-10 years," says Dr. Ann Hoven, chief medical director
of The Hartford's Individual Life Division. She says insurance companies don't look at the
type of treatment used to cure the cancer-mastectomy versus chemotherapy-but at its overall
Life insurance companies base their charges on several rating categories, with
preferred plus being the best and cheapest and substandard the lowest and most expensive.
Hart says most survivors would be offered standard rates. Some companies will offer
preferred rates for Stage 1 cancer and after a minimum of 10 years without recurrence, she
says. She says those with recurring cancer are generally uninsurable.
Those with cancer in both breasts have a higher risk and therefore, a higher rating,
than those with cancer in just one breast, Hoven adds. Hart says family history is considered
as a screen for preferred exclusion, but not for possible denial.
Hart says both men and women breast cancer survivors receive the same rates.
Survivors could be eligible for both term and whole life insurance.
If you've been denied life insurance in the past, Hart and Hoven recommend you try
again, provided your treatments are completed and you've undergone the wait period. Hoven
urges women to get annual mammograms and screenings for other cancers, following a
healthy diet and exercise routine and taking care of other health issues like high blood
pressure to improve your chances of getting life insurance.
If you're still undergoing treatment, Hoven says The Hartford can often offer a joint
life policy if your spouse/partner is in good health.
Debunking breast cancer myths
Using antiperspirants and shaving your underarms increase a person's risk of developing
The American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute and U.S. Food and Drug
Administration agree there is no good scientific evidence to support this claim. The ACS says
an epidemiologic study of this issue published in 2002 found no link between breast cancer
risk and antiperspirant or deodorant use. Another study published in 2003 reported younger
women who were diagnosed with breast cancer said they used antiperspirants and started
shaving their underarms earlier and more often than women who were diagnosed when they
were older. But this study did not include a control group of women without breast cancer
and has been criticized by experts, the ACS reports.
Wearing a bra for a whole day compresses the lymphatic system of the breast, resulting in
accumulation of toxins that cause breast cancer.
The ACS says there are no scientifically valid studies that show wearing bras of any
type causes breast cancer. The claim making its way through e-mails appears to be based on
the writings of a husband and wife team of medical anthropologists who link breast cancer to
wearing a bra. However, their study was not conducted according to standard principles of
epidemiological research and did not take into consideration other variables, including known
risk factors for breast cancer, the ACS notes.
Paget's disease, which looks like a rash around the nipple, is a rare form of breast cancer
that can be misdiagnosed as a dermatological condition.
This e-mail myth is actually a very plausible description of a case of this rare disease,
says the ACS's medical editor, Ted Gansler. "I do not doubt that some cases of Paget's
disease might be initially overlooked and attributed to a benign skin condition," Gansler
states. Paget's disease starts in the breast ducts and spreads to the skin of the nipple and then
to the areola, the dark circle around the nipple. Paget's disease accounts for only 1 percent of
all cases of breast cancer. The skin of the nipple and areola often appears crusted, scaly, and
red, with areas of bleeding or oozing. The woman may notice burning or itching. See a doctor
if any change occurs, such as development of a lump or swelling in the breast or underarm
area, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction (turning inward), redness or
scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk, the ACS
Power lines, microwave ovens and TV could cause breast cancer.
There have been several studies over the past 15 years evaluating children's and
adults' residential exposure to electro-magnetic fields in relation to breast cancer, brain cancer
and leukemia, most of which have been inconclusive, the National Cancer Institute says. Still,
the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences recommends increasing the space
between devices that emit EMFs, including TVs, microwaves and electric blankets, and
yourself and discouraging children from playing near power lines. EMFs are emitted from
devices that produce, transmit or use electric power.
You can only inherit breast cancer from your mother's side of the family.
Not true, says the NCI. Genes related to it can be inherited from your father's side, too.