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Can you get life insurance if you have cancer?



If you’re in remission or have a family history of cancer, you can still get affordable coverage, but if you’re in treatment, you’ll likely be denied a traditional policy.

Anna Swartz 1600Amanda Shih author photo

Anna Swartz & Amanda Shih

Published August 12, 2020


  • If you have a family history of cancer, you may still qualify for the best rates

  • Premiums for cancer survivors currently in remission depend on the type of cancer you had and when you completed treatment

  • If you’re currently undergoing treatment for cancer you’re more likely to qualify for guaranteed issue life insurance than traditional life insurance

Shopping for a life insurance policy can feel confusing, and if you have a family history of cancer or have been diagnosed with cancer yourself, finding the best provider for your situation might seem complicated. Your health history plays a large role in determining your life insurance premium. If you are a cancer survivor, currently in treatment, or one of your parents or siblings has had a cancer diagnosis, your premiums or even your ability to purchase an insurance policy could be affected.

But depending on your diagnosis, your current health status, and the details of your family history, there are still several life insurance options available to you. If you’re currently undergoing treatment, a guaranteed issue policy can protect you until your health improves. And if your cancer is in remission or your immediate relatives have had cancer, you may still be eligible for a competitively priced traditional policy.


Can you get life insurance if you have cancer?

If you are currently undergoing treatment for cancer, or if you have had a cancer diagnosis within the last two to four years, it’s very likely that you will not be able to purchase a traditional term or whole life insurance policy and will have to purchase a more expensive final expense policy. (There are usually exceptions for non-melanoma skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma).

If you’re still undergoing treatment, your future health is difficult for insurers to evaluate. An underwriter will want any major medical issues to have been resolved for at least a few years before they rate your health. They don’t want to assess your mortality and assign you a health rating while your medical profile has the potential to change rapidly. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get any life insurance coverage if you’re undergoing treatment for cancer or have a recent diagnosis.


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Guaranteed issue life insurance for cancer patients

Guaranteed issue life insurance is a type of whole life insurance that does not require a medical exam and, in many cases, does not require answers to medical questions.

The tradeoff is that guaranteed issue life insurance policies are much more expensive than traditional term life insurance, and offer lower benefit amounts. But if you’re unable to purchase traditional term insurance, a guaranteed issue life insurance policy could be a good way to get some life insurance coverage and provide a small death benefit for your family should you die while the policy is active. Once you’re in remission for a number of years, you can revisit your traditional policy options and cancel your guaranteed issue policy after finding a suitable replacement.

Guaranteed issue life insurance is most often available to people over 50, but if you are under 50 and living with cancer, it may be possible to purchase a guaranteed issue policy with some insurers. Guaranteed issue premiums are based on your age, and are priced per $1,000 unit of coverage. Additionally, the policies are limited in how many units you can purchase: many policies max out at a $10,000 death benefit, though some may allow you to purchase up to $25,000 in coverage.

Sample guaranteed issue whole life premiums for women:

WOMEN$10,000 POLICY $25,000 POLICY
AgeAnnual PremiumMonthly PremiumAnnual PremiumMonthly Premium

Sample guaranteed issue whole life premiums for men:

MEN$10,000 POLICY $25,000 POLICY
AgeAnnual PremiumMonthly PremiumAnnual PremiumMonthly Premium

Sample premiums based on policies offered by Policygenius in 2020. Not available in all states.

Life insurance for former cancer patients

People with past cancer diagnoses who have been declared in remission and are a certain number of years past their final treatment may be eligible for a traditional term or whole life insurance policy. During the underwriting process, the life insurance company will review your application in order to assign you an insurance classification, which is a rating that determines how much you’ll pay for your insurance policy. Some of the information they’ll look at includes:

  • Health questionnaire
  • Medical history and pre-existing medical conditions
  • Physician statements
  • Driving record (MVR)
  • Medical exam results

Each provider has its own classification terms, but generally, Preferred Plus will give you the lowest premiums, with Preferred, Standard Plus, Standard, and Substandard ratings (also called table ratings) offering progressively higher premiums. For cancer survivors, your ability to qualify for a policy and your premiums for that policy will be based on four factors:

  • The type of cancer you had (e.g., breast cancer, skin cancer, thyroid cancer, etc.)
  • The date you were diagnosed with cancer
  • The date of your last cancer treatment
  • How the insurer weighs those factors against the rest of your health history

It’s hard to say which insurers are best for which cancers, because your entire health history is taken into account during underwriting in addition to how much time has elapsed since your diagnosis and treatment. Certain cancer diagnoses can lead to a more preferable rating than others based on how an insurer assesses the mortality risk of those cancers. Skin cancer, for example, is often assessed more favorably by underwriters than lung or pancreatic cancer.

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Life insurance ratings for former cancer patients

Generally, these are the best insurance classifications you can expect if you have been diagnosed with each of the following cancer types. But multiple factors, like your credit report and a medical exam, will determine your final rating.

Cancers that could result in Preferred Plus ratings for some carriers:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Non-melanoma skin cancer
  • Papillary thyroid cancer
  • Stage 1 seminoma testicular cancer

Cancers that could result in Preferred ratings for some carriers:

  • Prostate cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Uterine cancer

Cancers that could result in Standard ratings for some carriers:

  • Benign tumors
  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Renal cancer

If you have a cancer diagnosis in your health history, it’s important to work with an independent broker like Policygenius that can review your medical history and work with in-house underwriters to choose the best insurer and policy for your situation.

Life insurance for people with a family history of cancer

When you’re applying for life insurance, your current health matters, but so does your family’s health history. Insurers will ask if any members of your immediate family — your parents and siblings — have been diagnosed with cancer or another genetic disease, at what age they were diagnosed, and whether they died. Your answers to those questions could affect your insurance classification.

Every insurance company treats a family history of cancer differently, which is why your quotes can vary so widely between insurers. While having a family member with a certain type of cancer may affect your rates with one provider, it could be that you’re still able to get the best available rates with another.

For example:

  • Some insurers will give you Preferred Plus rates if the cancer in your immediate family has higher survival rates and is not considered hereditary; others will not offer their best rates if an immediate family member has had any cancer diagnosis
  • Some carriers won’t count gender-specific cancers if you’re of the opposite sex (e.g., if you’re female, the fact that your father had testicular cancer won’t affect your rates)
  • Others won’t inquire into your family history of cancer at all

The best life insurance companies for people with a family history of cancer

Since some types of cancer can be passed down from parent to child, a family history of cancer among your biological relatives (along with other chronic illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease) will be taken into account by insurers when setting your premiums.

We rated the insurers below based on how friendly their underwriting practices are for people with a history of cancer in their families. These ratings generally line up with the best health class each insurance company may offer you. “Excellent” means you may be eligible for a Preferred Plus rating, “Good” means you could likely get a Preferred rating, and “Fair” means you could likely get a Standard rating. These are general guides based on our expert advisers’ years of experience and literature from the insurers themselves.

Here are the best companies for people who have a family history of cancer:

Life insurance companyRanking
Mutual of OmahaGood
Pacific LifeFair

The bottom line

Having a current cancer diagnosis, a past history of cancer, or a family history of cancer raises red flags for an insurer when they’re evaluating the risk of insuring you, but not every instance of cancer in your medical history will have the same effect on your life insurance.

A guaranteed issue policy is a great way to secure financial protection for your loved ones if you’re currently undergoing cancer treatment or recently completed treatment. If you’re in remission or an immediate family member has had cancer, do some research to find out how that could impact your premiums, if at all. Every insurance application is different and each insurer varies in the way they evaluate cancer diagnoses, so make sure to compare coverage on your own or with the help of an independent broker to identify which policy is the best fit for your entire medical and personal profile.

About the authors

Insurance Expert

Anna Swartz

Insurance Expert

Anna Swartz is a Managing Editor at Policygenius in New York City, and an expert in auto insurance. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic, writing about news and culture. Her work has appeared in The Dodo, AOL, HuffPost, Salon and Heeb.

Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih

Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is an insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City. Previously, she worked in nonfiction book publishing and freelance content marketing. Amanda has a B.A. in literature and communication from New York University.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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