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A complete guide to buying life insurance for people with a history of cancer

Most people with cancer are not eligible for traditional life insurance. But people who have a history of cancer are usually able to get coverage.

Katherine Murbach PolicygeniusAmanda Shih author photo

By

Katherine Murbach

Katherine Murbach

Associate Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Katherine Murbach is an associate editor and a licensed life insurance expert at Policygenius. Previously, she wrote about life and disability insurance for 1752 Financial, and advised over 1,500 clients on their life insurance policies as a sales associate.

&Amanda Shih

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius, where she covered life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

Updated|9 min read

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Can you qualify for a life insurance policy if you’ve been recently diagnosed with cancer?

If you are currently in cancer treatment, you probably won’t qualify for traditional life insurance coverage — for most people, this refers to term life insurance

Whether you can get life insurance after a cancer diagnosis varies based on a few factors:

  • Date of diagnosis

  • Stage of diagnosis

  • Treatment history

  • Type of cancer

Insurance companies sometimes make exceptions for a few types of cancers, including non-melanoma skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. If you’ve had this type of lower-risk cancer and had it removed, you should disclose it to the insurance company, and they should be able to offer you coverage.

The more complex your cancer history, the harder it will be to qualify for coverage. A later-stage diagnosis, a recent diagnosis, or more rounds of treatment will likely raise your rates.

  • If you’ve had a cancer that was stage 0, stage I, or stage II and your treatment ended five or more years ago, your approval odds will be higher, and you'll likely qualify for a term policy. 

  • If you have a history of stage III or stage IV cancer, insurers will likely want to see you’ve been in remission for up to 10 years before considering an offer for a term life insurance policy.

When can you qualify for life insurance following a cancer diagnosis?

Many insurers won't consider you for a term life insurance policy until you’re a few years out from your diagnosis or last treatment. Depending on your diagnosis, your current health status, and your treatment history, there are options available, though some are more expensive than others. 

If you’ve been following your treatment plan and going to the doctor for regular follow-ups, it will help increase your chances of getting coverage. Most insurers will want to see you've been cancer-free for over five years before approving you for coverage, but every insurance company’s decision will vary depending on your situation.

The right coverage will depend heavily on your specific medical history, so it’s best to shop around and work with a licensed agent or broker to choose the right policy. At Policygenius, we’ve got a team of experts who specialize in life insurance for people with various health considerations, including cancer. They’ll help you find the right options for your unique needs, so you can get covered with confidence.

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What types of life insurance are available if you currently have cancer, or if you’ve had cancer recently?

If you’re currently under treatment for cancer or if you had a cancer diagnosis within the last two to four years, you may be denied coverage under standard term or whole life insurance (a type of coverage that doesn’t expire). However, a couple of coverage options are available to you: 

  • People over age 45 can qualify for guaranteed issue life insurance. This is a type of whole life insurance geared toward paying final expenses that offers near-certain approval, but it’s costly.

  • If you’re under age 45, you may be able to get some coverage through a workplace group life insurance policy. This type of insurance rarely has medical requirements but offers limited coverage, and in most cases you’ll lose your group coverage if you leave the company.

What types of life insurance are available if you’ve had cancer in the past?

There are two main types of life insurance policies available to you if you've had cancer in the past: term life and whole life insurance. Term life insurance is the most popular option for most people because it’s straightforward, only lasts for as long as you need it, and is more affordable than other coverage options, like whole.

Typically, it's easier to get approved for coverage after you’ve been in remission for five years, especially if you had early stage cancer. After the five-year period, it’s possible to qualify for average rates provided there are no other major health concerns. 

For stage III or stage IV cancer, insurance companies will typically wait up to 10 years before considering you for a term policy. Since there are many variations of cancer and everyone’s health history is nuanced, it’s best to speak with a licensed agent about your specific situation to determine your best options.

How much does life insurance cost if you have a history of cancer?

How much you can expect to pay for life insurance will depend on the type of policy you may be eligible for. If you’ve had cancer in the past and been in remission for three to five years — depending on the type of cancer and your personal situation — term life insurance can be an option for you. If you’re denied standard coverage due to an existing or recent cancer diagnosis, you still have the option of guaranteed issue life insurance. Below you'll find estimated average rates for both options.

Term life insurance rates for people who have recovered from cancer

Age

Sex

$500,000 policy

30

Female

$33.45

Male

$40.29

40

Female

$51.45

Male

$63.78

50

Female

$112.65

Male

$145.03

60

Female

$288.09

Male

$401.79

Methodology: Average monthly estimated rates are calculated for male and female applicants obtaining a $500,000, 20-year term life insurance policy using a Standard health rating. Average term life insurance rates are based on policies offered by Brighthouse Financial, Foresters, Pacific Life, Principal, SBLI, Symetra, Mutual of Omaha, Prudential, Lincoln Financial, Banner Life, Protective, AIG, and Transamerica as applicable to each age group. Not all policies are available in all states. Rate illustration valid as of July 1, 2022.

Guaranteed issue whole life insurance rates for people with a current or recent cancer diagnosis

Age

Sex

$15,000

$25,000

50

Female

$50.98

$86.85

Male

$71.38

$117.96

60

Female

$71.71

$126.71

Male

$93.02

$163.38

70

Female

$107.47

$189.31

Male

$143.75

$252.71

Methodology: Average monthly rates are calculated for male and female applicants obtaining a $15,000 or $25,000 guaranteed issue whole life insurance policy. Average whole life insurance rates are based on policies offered by Mutual of Omaha and AIG. Not all policies are available in all states. Rate illustration valid as of July 1, 2022.

Does a past cancer diagnosis impact my premiums if I’m in remission now?

Yes, a past cancer diagnosis will impact your premiums because life insurance companies view cancer as a significant medical risk. Your entire health history is taken into account during the application process in addition to how much time has gone by since your diagnosis and treatment. This will determine your health classification, which in turn will be used to set your premiums. Usually, the healthier you are, the better health classification you’ll be assigned by the insurer — and the lower your premiums will be.

Certain cancer diagnoses can lead to better rates than others based on the assumed mortality risk of those cancers. For example, someone who’s had skin cancer will often pay less than someone who’s had lung or pancreatic cancer.

People who have been declared in remission and are a certain number of years past their final treatment will face fewer issues finding coverage. When you apply, the life insurance company will review a few aspects of your cancer history, including the date of your diagnosis, the type and stage of cancer you had, any recurrences or complications you may have experienced, and the date of your last treatment.

Life insurance companies will ask if you or any immediate family members have had a history of cancer, but not every cancer diagnosis will have the same effect on your life insurance. Compare coverage with the help of an independent broker to identify which policy is the best fit for your entire personal profile.

→ Learn more about how to buy life insurance if you have a pre-existing condition

Does having a family history of cancer affect my life insurance rates?

Every insurance company treats a family history of cancer differently; some won’t consider it when setting your premiums, but others will.

Since some types of cancer can have a genetic link, most insurers will ask if any of your biological relatives have had cancer. If your answer is yes, you might be asked a few follow-up questions, including:

  • Who in your family had cancer

  • What their diagnosis was

  • When they were diagnosed

  • Whether they went into remission

While having a family member with cancer may affect your rates with one insurer, you may still qualify for the best available rates with another. It all will depend on your specific family history of cancer.

For example, some insurance companies might consider you a higher insurance risk if:

  • Your parents have had cancer

  • You are the same sex as a family member who had a sex-specific cancer, like testicular cancer

But some insurers might not see you as a higher insurance risk if:

  • Your family member survived a cancer diagnosis before age 60 or 65

  • Your family member was diagnosed with cancer above age 65

Further, if you are 65 or 70 years old, many insurers won’t consider family history as part of your application process at all.

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Best companies for life insurance for people with a history of cancer

The best life insurance company for you will depend on your cancer history, recovery, and current health. Based on your profile, your coverage options may include standard term, guaranteed-issue, and even no-medical-exam policies. Below are some of the insurers who are typically good fits for people who have a history of cancer. However, it’s important to speak with a licensed agent about your specific situation. 

How we chose the best life insurance companies for people with a history of cancer

We don't get paid for our company reviews and use an extensive rubric of criteria covering policy details, price, financial confidence, third-party ratings, and customer experience to assign unbiased ratings out of five stars. Any recommendations we make are based on internal and external expert opinions and data from our Policygenius Price Index, which uses real-time rate data from leading life insurance companies to determine pricing trends.

Our ratings and reviews can help point you to an insurer you can rely on for your family’s financial protection, but the best life insurance company for you is dependent on multiple factors. A licensed agent at Policygenius can work with you through the application process so you’re getting coverage from the best insurer for your circumstances at the most competitive price.

→ Read more about our reviews methodology here

Best overall life insurance for people who have a history of cancer

Symetra

3.6

Policygenius rating

How we score: Policygenius’ ratings are determined by our editorial team. Our methodology takes multiple factors into account, including pricing, financial ratings, quality of customer service, and other product-specific features.

Symetra logo

Symetra offers high coverage amounts, the option to reconsider rates after a year, and a term life policy for people with a history of cancer that is particularly competitive.

Pros

  • High coverage amounts

  • Excellent financial ratings

  • Can reconsider rates

Cons

  • Pricier than average

  • Few third-party ratings

  • No online quote tool or policy info

Why we picked it

Symetra offers comparatively low rates to people who have had early-stage breast, cervical, colon, prostate, skin, testicular, or thyroid cancer. To be eligible for rates usually reserved for people in very good health or minor health conditions (which means getting some of the best possible premiums), you cannot have had any recurrences.

Most affordable life insurance for people with a history of cancer

Protective

4.9

Policygenius rating

How we score: Policygenius’ ratings are determined by our editorial team. Our methodology takes multiple factors into account, including pricing, financial ratings, quality of customer service, and other product-specific features.

Protective logo

Protective offers some of the industry’s most affordable term life insurance rates and a straightforward term life policy that works in your favor. This applies to most people who have had cancer, too.

Pros

  • One of the best values on the market

  • Variety of coverage amounts and term lengths

  • Solid suite of online tools

Cons

  • Slow application approval

  • No no-med exam options

Why we picked it

Compared to the industry average, Protective has very competitive rates for healthy people — including people who have had certain types of cancer with low mortality rates and those whose condition has been in remission for at least five years. Though costs increase as you age, the price of a Protective term life insurance policy remains lower than most other life insurance companies on the market.

Best life insurance for people who have had prostate cancer

Protective

Why we picked it

Many people who have had prostate cancer will not be able to get coverage from any insurance company if they have been in remission for less than three years. Protective may consider you for approval if you’ve been cancer-free for one to three years — although you may pay higher-than-average premiums. And if you’ve been in remission for prostate cancer for over five years, Protective can offer some of the lowest rates across the board.

Best life insurance for people who have had breast cancer

Lincoln Financial

4.7

Policygenius rating

How we score: Policygenius’ ratings are determined by our editorial team. Our methodology takes multiple factors into account, including pricing, financial ratings, quality of customer service, and other product-specific features.

Lincoln Financial logo

Lincoln can offer some of the best life insurance rates to people who have had stage 0 breast cancer, depending on their background.

Pros

  • Affordable for older applicants

  • No-med option available

  • Very fast turnaround

  • Benefits marijuana users

Cons

  • Expensive permanent policies

  • Few online tools

Why we picked it

For the most part, Lincoln will offer you a wider array of policies if you've had stage 0 or stage I cancer, and have been in remission for a few years — usually five. Lincoln is also a favorable option if you've had later-stage breast cancer. You’ll just need to wait a few more years — between five and 10, depending on the stage — to have the best approval odds.

Best guaranteed issue whole life insurance for people with a recent history of cancer

Mutual of Omaha

3.4

Policygenius rating

How we score: Policygenius’ ratings are determined by our editorial team. Our methodology takes multiple factors into account, including pricing, financial ratings, quality of customer service, and other product-specific features.

Mutual of Omaha logo

Mutual of Omaha offers competitive pricing for people with common and some complex health conditions, including a history of cancer.

Pros

  • Competitive underwriting for a range of health conditions, like a history of cancer

  • No-medical exam options for older applicants

  • Strong financial and customer ratings

Cons

  • Policies are more expensive than the average

  • Slow turnaround time

Why we picked it

Mutual of Omaha offers a variety of final expense life insurance options for people age 45 and up. While it offers a wide array of coverage options, the company’s guaranteed issue life insurance — which is aimed at covering final expenses and doesn’t require a medical exam for approval — is more affordable than similar policies from other insurers. You can qualify for this product even with a recent history of cancer.

Best life insurance for people with a family history of cancer

Lincoln Financial

Why we picked it

While many companies will not offer their best rates to people with a family history of cancer, Lincoln Financial does not factor family cancer history into your rate when they review your application.

Best no-medical-exam life insurance for people with a family history of cancer

Brighthouse Financial

4.6

Policygenius rating

How we score: Policygenius’ ratings are determined by our editorial team. Our methodology takes multiple factors into account, including pricing, financial ratings, quality of customer service, and other product-specific features.

Brighthouse Financial logo

Brighthouse offers competitive rates and a seamless application process, making it a popular option for people who want to get covered without having to take a medical exam, even for those with a family history of cancer.

Pros

  • Very affordable term life insurance

  • No-medical exams for SimplySelect term life product

  • Instant decision approval

  • Convertible options are available

Cons

  • Only few term lengths available

  • No rate reconsideration

  • Customer support is lacking

Why we picked it

Other insurance companies may increase rates for people with cancer in their family history, but Brighthouse can offer you some of the best rates even if you have a parent or sibling who has been diagnosed with cancer.

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What do life insurance companies consider when you’re applying with a history of cancer?

Life insurance companies take a holistic look at your health while reviewing your application. When it comes to your cancer history, they will ask about your specific diagnosis, your treatment  type and duration, and any recurrences.

Following up on the treatment plan prescribed by your physician plays an important role in your application decision, too. Even if you had an early-stage cancer, if you’re inconsistent about visiting your doctor for checkups for years to come, this could affect your premiums and even whether your application is approved. Making sure to stick to your follow-up plan as advised by your doctor will improve your chances of a favorable rate.

What happens if your cancer recurs?

If your cancer returns while you have an active policy, your policy will still remain in force as long as you pay the premiums, or until the term ends.

If you apply for a new policy while having cancer, your options will likely be limited to policies aimed at covering final expenses that don’t require any medical prerequisites for approval, like guaranteed issue whole life insurance. 

It will also likely become more difficult for you to get approved for term life insurance in the future if you have multiple recurrences of cancer in your health history. The reason is because insurance companies view recurrences as increased medical risk.

Can your life insurance policy be canceled?

As long as you pay the premiums, your life insurance policy can’t be canceled. However, if you committed insurance fraud or lied on the application, the insurer reserves the right to cancel your policy or withhold the death benefit.

What to do before you apply

  1. Determine how much life insurance you want to purchase. It’s important to think of your financial obligations and who is dependent on your income. The amount of coverage you need will help determine what kind of life insurance is best for you. 

  2. Compare quotes from multiple insurers. Some insurance companies have more flexible guidelines around cancer than others, so shopping around will ensure you’re getting the cheapest rate.

  3. Talk to a licensed life insurance agent about the details of your specific health history. Everyone’s health is different, especially when it comes to cancer history and treatment details. A licensed agent will be able to provide a personalized recommendation.

At Policygenius, we’ve got a team of experts who specialize in life insurance for people with various health considerations, including cancer. They’ll help you find the most affordable policy for your personal situation so you can get covered with confidence.

Frequently asked questions

Can I get life insurance if I had cancer?

Yes, insurers offer coverage to people who have had cancer. Your coverage will depend on the type of cancer you had, how long you’ve been in remission, and your treatment plan. Alternative life insurance policies that cover final expenses and don’t have medical prerequisites, such as guaranteed-issue, are also available, but usually cost more.

Does life insurance test for cancer?

No, insurers do not test for cancer. But because insurers look at your previous medical records, they will be aware of any cancer diagnoses you’ve had in the past. You should disclose a cancer diagnosis and your treatment plan when you apply for life insurance.

What life insurance options do I have if I’m denied coverage for cancer?

If you’re denied coverage due to an existing cancer diagnosis, you still have life insurance options. Guaranteed issue life insurance is one of them. This is a type of policy that covers final expenses and doesn’t have medical prerequisites for approval. Another option is group life insurance. Many companies offer this type of policy to their employees. Coverage amounts are usually low, and most employees will lose coverage if they leave the company, but medical conditions are not considered for approval.

Authors

Associate Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Katherine Murbach

Associate Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

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Katherine Murbach is an associate editor and a licensed life insurance expert at Policygenius. Previously, she wrote about life and disability insurance for 1752 Financial, and advised over 1,500 clients on their life insurance policies as a sales associate.

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

gray twitter icon linkgray linkedin icon link

Amanda Shih is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius, where she covered life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

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