Life insurance and cancer

Protecting your family when you have a personal or family history of cancer or a current diagnosis.

Logan Sachon

Logan Sachon

Published January 14, 2019

Shopping for a life insurance policy can be stressful for anyone — no one likes to imagine or plan for their own death — but it can be especially intimidating for people with a history of cancer, whether in their own health history or that of a close family member.

Your health history plays a large role in your life insurance rates, so whether you are a cancer survivor yourself or one of your parents or siblings has had a cancer diagnosis, your rates or even your ability to purchase an insurance policy could be affected.

But depending on your cancer type, current status, and family history, there are several life insurance policy options available to you.

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Life insurance for people with a family history of cancer

When you’re applying for life insurance, your current health matters, but your family’s health history is also taken into account.

Insurers want to know 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, which is the rating given to you by the underwriters that determines how much you’ll pay for your insurance policy.

How family history of cancer affects underwriting

During the underwriting process, the life insurance company’s underwriters will review your application in order to assign you a health classification. Life insurance application materials include:

  • your health history and pre-existing medical conditions
  • physician statements
  • driving record
  • medical exam results
  • your medical records

Each carrier has its own classification terms, but generally, Preferred Plus will give you the lowest premium rates, with Preferred, Standard Plus, Standard, and substandard ratings (also called table ratings) offering progressively higher rates.

A family history of cancer is the perfect example of why you need to shop around when you’re applying for life insurance. Insurers have different guidelines, and a while family member with a certain cancer may affect your rates with one carrier, 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 cancers in your immediate family have higher survival rates and are not considered hereditary cancers; others will not give best rates if any immediate family member has a cancer diagnosis
  • Some carriers won’t count gender-specific cancers if you’re the opposite sex (e.g.,if you’re a female, the fact that your father had testicular cancer won’t affect your rates; if you're a male, some companies will disregard that your mother and sister are breast cancer survivors)
  • Others won’t inquire into 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, family history of cancer (along with other chronic illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease) are taken into account by insurers when setting your rates.

We’ve analyzed many of the most popular life insurance companies and rated them for how friendly their underwriting practices are for people with a history of cancer in their families.

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

Life insurance companyRanking
John HancockGood
Pacific LifeGood
Mutual of OmahaGood

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Life insurance for former cancer patients

People with 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.

For cancer survivors, ability to qualify for a policy and your rates for that policy will be based on four factors:

  • Type of cancer (e.g., breast cancer, skin cancer, thyroid cancer, etc.)
  • Date diagnosed with cancer
  • Date of last cancer treatment
  • How the carrier 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, in addition to how far out you are from diagnosis and treatment. But generally, some cancer types can lead to a better rating than others based on how the carriers assess the mortality risk of those cancers. An independent insurance broker familiar with underwriting across carriers can help you choose the best insurer for you.

Generally, these are the best ratings you can expect if you have been diagnosed with each the following cancer types. But your specific circumstances, including how far out you are from your last treatment, along with the rest of your health history, will determine your final rating:

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

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

Cancers that could result in Preferred ratings for some carriers:

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

Cancers that could result in Standard ratings for some carriers:

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

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

Life insurance for cancer patients

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 traditional term life insurance or whole life insurance policy and will have to purchase a more expensive final expense policy. (There are exceptions for some skin cancers.)

It may seem cruel or unfair that there isn't term life insurance for cancer patients, but the reasoning does make sense: if you’re still undergoing treatment, your future health may still be a big question mark, and it’s impossible for the insurers to assess your mortality and assign you a health rating. The underwriters want you to have resolved your current issue and be a few years past it before they give you a health classification.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get any life insurance coverage at all if you’re undergoing treatment for cancer or have a recent diagnosis.

Guaranteed issue life 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 the policies are much more expensive than traditional term life insurance for lower benefit amounts. But if you’re unable to purchase regular term insurance, a guaranteed issue life insurance policy could be a good way to get some life insurance coverage and a small death benefit for your family.

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 carriers.

Guaranteed issue policy premium rates 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 rates for women:

Women$10,000 policy $25,000 policy
AgeAnnual PremiumMonthly PremiumAnnual PremiumMonthly Premium

Sample guaranteed issue whole life rates for men:

Men$10,000 policy $25,000 policy
AgeAnnual PremiumMonthly PremiumAnnual PremiumMonthly Premium

Sample rates only. Not available in all states.

A term life insurance policy is the best option for most people, but if you cannot qualify for a term policy because of a current or recent cancer diagnosis, guaranteed issue life insurance may be a good option for you to still leave a death benefit for your beneficiaries. A Policygenius insurance agent can help you decide which type of policy is right for you and help you apply for life insurance.

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.