Life, and Insurance, After Breast Cancer

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 success.

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 breast cancer.

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 recommends.

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.

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