How to Get Term Life Insurance With Breast Cancer

UPDATED: Mar 26, 2020

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Breast cancer is the most common cancer found in women in the US, with nearly 300,000 new cases expected to be diagnosed this year. Only lung cancer causes more cancer deaths in women. The likelihood a woman will develop breast cancer during her lifetime is 1 in 8.

Most people know about the pink ribbon.  The ribbon is a symbol of hope and unity for the thousands of women battling this disease, as well as the millions who have survived it. The ribbon seems to be ubiquitous, especially in the fall when Breast Cancer Awareness Month occurs in October each year.

For the nearly 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. in 2011, hope and unity continue to help carry them to the next day. And for those women, the opportunity to secure term life insurance protection for themselves and their families is there. We’ve helped many breast cancer survivors secure term life insurance coverage over the years.

If you are a survivor or know one, we can help you too. We will explain how life insurance companies handle applicants with a history of breast cancer. What do they look for? How can you prepare? What is the likely outcome? Read on to find the answers to these questions and more. Then you’ll be ready to get started with your term life insurance application.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that begins in the breast tissue. There are two main types of breast cancer, each determined by the location the cancer originated in. Each type can be invasive, meaning it has spread, or non-invasive (also known as in-situ).

  • Ductal carcinoma – Originates in the milk duct
  • Lobular carcinoma – Originates in the breast lobules, which produce milk 

Breast Cancer Statistics

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer found in women in the U.S. According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

  • 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime
  • In 2014, an estimated 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in the U.S.
  • In 2014, an estimated 62,570 new cases of in-situ breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in the U.S.
  • In 2014, an estimated 40,000 women were expected to die from breast cancer in the U.S.
  • Breast cancer awareness in this country continues to grow each year. Death rates from breast cancer have declined each year since 1989.

While the disease is far and away a woman’s disease, men are not immune to it. Each year about 2,400 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in men. A man’s lifetime chance of developing breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.

Treatments and Prevention

Breast cancer treatment varies by the individual circumstances. Treatment depends on tumor size and location, stage and grade of the disease and other factors. Treatment options typically include the following, with most women receiving a combination of treatments:

  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Surgery (lumpectomy, mastectomy, etc.)

Breast cancer prevention is achieved by maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle to include a proper diet, moderate exercise and avoiding known carcinogens such as tobacco and excess radiation.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, consider being tested for BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Tamoxifen is a medication that has been approved by the FDA to help prevent breast cancer, by interfering with estrogen activity.

What Life Insurance Companies Look For

Life insurance companies want to see that women with a history of breast cancer have (1) received full treatment, and (2) have completed regular follow-up visits per doctor’s orders. Lifelong follow-up is crucial, as recurrences can occur as many as 30 years after the initial diagnosis.

The life insurance company you apply with will be looking specifically at:

  • Your age at diagnosis
  • The amount of time since diagnosis
  • The stage and grade of cancer
  • The tumor size
  • Any lymphatic node involvement
  • Whether metastasis is present
  • Whether there was any recurrence of cancer following recovery
  • Length of time since treatment and recovery
  • Your menopausal status
  • The treatment success and adherence to treatment recommendations
  • Follow up visits as recommended by doctor
  • Whether you are a tobacco/drug/alcohol user
  • Any other major health problems

How to Prepare for Your Term Life Insurance Application

There are important measures you can take to prepare yourself before applying for term life insurance. Doing so will help your chances of getting approved for the best rating class possible. Use the following tips to put yourself in the best position to win:

  • Have all doctors’ name/address/phone available.
  • Make sure your doctor(s) has copies of all records regarding the cancer treatment, pathology reports, and follow-up reports.
  • Have a list of all medications and their dosages available.
  • Do not skip any follow-up visits with your doctor. 

What our Experience has Shown

We’ve helped thousands of people apply for term life insurance, and many of those people had breast cancer. Here are a few things we’ve learned:

  • Life insurance companies usually postpone applicants who have not followed doctor’s orders regarding follow-up visits, or those that have outstanding follow-up visits.
  • Generally speaking, life insurance companies do not make policy offers while the applicant is currently in treatment.
  • You may be declined if you apply too soon after finishing treatment, typically within the first year.
  • Approval is more likely the longer it has been since treatment, with no recurrence.
  • Rating classes better than Standard are rare. Most applicants with a history of breast cancer receive a Sub-standard rating class or a policy with an extra premium of some degree.
  • The best chances for approval with a good rating class and no extra premium are:
  • Over age 40 at diagnosis
  • Early stage, small tumors
  • 10+ years since treatment with no recurrence
  • The life insurance company will usually decline applicants if the cancer metastasized.
  • Extra premium is commonly required when it has been less than ten years since recovery.

Real Examples from Real Customers

1.  Good Outcome

Nancy applied for term life insurance when she was 56 years old.

  • Diagnosed at age 50
  • Stage 0 breast cancer
  • Treatment involved surgery, radiation and chemotherapy
  • No lymph node involvement, no metastasis
  • Visits her doctor twice a year for mammograms
  • No other medical conditions
  • Outcome:  Approved at a Standard rating class
  • Premium:   $700 annually

2.  Not So Good Outcome

Jillian applied for term life insurance when she was 45 years old.

  • Diagnosed at age 42
  • Stage 2 breast cancer
  • Treatment involved surgery, radiation and chemotherapy
  • Minor lymph node involvement, no metastasis
  • Visits her doctor twice a year for mammograms
  • No other medical conditions
  • Outcome:  Postponed for ten years from treatment ending (age 50)

3.  Poor Outcome

Mary applied for term life insurance when she was 38 years old.

  • Diagnosed at age 34
  • Stage 2 breast cancer
  • Treatment involved surgery, radiation and chemotherapy
  • No lymph node involvement, no metastasis
  • Has not seen her doctor in over two years
  • No other medical conditions
  • Tobacco User
  • Outcome:  Declined

You can see Nancy had the best outcome, due to low-stage cancer that was caught early and treated. Being over age forty and having regular follow-up appointments with her doctor also helped. Jillian’s cancer was more extensive, and although she had no other medical conditions and good follow up, her application was postponed until more time has passed since treatment. Finally, Mary was the youngest of the group when she was diagnosed. However, her lack of routine follow-up, and tobacco use resulted in her application being declined. 

What This All Means for You

The good news about applying for term life insurance when you have a history of breast cancer is — yes, you can qualify for coverage! Your outcome and resulting premium cost will depend greatly on some factors, including your age, stage of cancer, treatment, follow-up, medical history and more.

While you can control the outcome to some extent through good follow up and lifestyle habits, other uncontrollable factors will come into play when the life insurance company reviews your application.

Remember, you could be asked to wait and apply later (postponed), or your policy may cost more due to an extra premium being applied (flat extra for a specific number of years, usually 1-10). But these are temporary measures, and eventually, you will get the coverage you seek and a more affordable premium cost!

As always, please discuss your situation with your life insurance agent or broker, and provide as much information as you can. They will help direct you to the best life insurance company based on your individual circumstances. And if you are not pleased with the offer you receive, you can always apply with another company.

Sources:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wikipedia,

Tim Bain

Tim is a licensed life insurance agent with 23 years of experience helping people protect their families and businesses with term life insurance. He writes and creates stuff for QuickQuote and other insurance and financial websites. You can find him on Twitter.

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