Life Insurance and Skin Cancer

How does skin cancer affect your chances of getting life insurance?

It's estimated that around 440,000 Australians are treated for some form of skin cancer each year. Unfortunately, the rate of Australians diagnosed with skin cancer has increased over the last several decades.

Skin cancer can make it difficult to secure a life insurance if you're undergoing cancer treatments. However, if after time you remain symptom free, you should be able to find a life insurer willing to offer your life cover.

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Will your life insurance policy provide cover if you've been diagnosed with skin cancer?

Many life insurance policies in the Australian market can provide you with additional trauma insurance benefits that will cover you if you're forced to miss time from work due to a skin cancer. Typically, trauma insurance is paid as a lump sum payment that allows you to use the funds to cover any expenses you may incur due to your illness.

However, whether you're covered will depend on how your insurer defines skin cancer.

How is skin cancer defined by Australian life insurance providers?

While many life insurance policies include protection for skin cancer, not all forms of skin cancer are covered. Definitions skin cancer can vary between insurer and extend to the types of skin cancer covered. While there are some characteristics of the definition of skin cancer that is accepted by all insurance companies, it's important for you to read each policy individually to see what is covered.

For a successful skin cancer claim under a trauma insurance policy, most insurance providers state that the policyholder must have:

  • A malignant melanoma that is at a minimum of a Clark Level 3
  • Has a thickness that is more than 1.5mm, unless additional organs in the body have been affected

Some insurance companies will also consider:

  • A tumour of the skin that has been diagnosed as a T3NOMO or greater
  • Skin cancers that are any stage T where N1, N2 or N3 or metastases are present

While these types of skin cancers are usually paid out 100% of the policy, some other types of skin cancer may be covered but at a reduced rate.

Why are there different benefit payouts for different types of skin cancer?

The reason why some types of skin cancers are covered and others are not is because treatments vary greatly between types and stages of cancer. For example, skin cancer detected early on may only require a short procedure that does not require any hospital stay and no time off work. Other stages of skin cancer may require lengthy treatments, weeks or months off work and long-term stays in the hospital.

What isn't covered by life insurers?

Typical cancer exclusions include:

  • Non-melanomas cancers originating in the skin unless there is evidence of metastatic spread
  • Malignant melanomas that are both less than Clark Level 3 OR less than 1.5mm thickness

Can you apply for cover after being diagnosed with skin cancer?

If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer, you will find it difficult to secure a life insurance cover while you are still receiving cancer treatments.

Your ability to obtain life insurance after you are diagnosed with skin cancer will vary greatly based on the type of cancer you had. Many forms of non-melanoma skin cancers are considered to be very low risk and may actually not affect your ability to get life insurance at all. This would be for cancers that were detected early on and required only minimal treatment.

However, even if you did have melanoma skin cancer, you may still be able to find adequate life insurance cover to protect you. Life insurers look at your complete medical history when deciding whether or not to provide you with cover. Some factors considered by insurers include the specific type of skin cancer you had, the stage and grade of your cancer, when you were diagnosed, when your last treatment was, and your risk factor for getting skin cancer again.

Questions you might be asked when you apply

  • Do you have a family history of cancer? If so, provide details about the family member and the age of onset. Did the skin cancer lead to a death in your family?
  • Indicate the specific type of skin cancer you have.
  • Provide the location of the skin cancer.
  • Has the area been treated or removed? Was it removed by laser, frozen off, burnt off or surgically removed?
  • If surgery was involved, provide the pathology results.
  • If the skin cancer was not removed provide reasons why not.
  • Do you have any follow-up appointments and if so, what is the frequency?
  • Were you hospitalised for this condition?
  • What is the contact information for your doctor?

Skin cancer is a real threat to all Australians

Research suggests that as many as two-thirds of all Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by the time they reach the age of 70-years old. While you may not think that you will ever need to worry about skin cancer in your lifetime, the statistics prove otherwise.

Cancer Australia estimate that over 13,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2016.

How can skin cancer develop?

Skin cancer occurs when the skin cells on the body are damaged, as can occur by exposure to UV rays from the sun. There are two basic types of skin cancer, including melanomas and non-melanomas. While melanomas are the least common type of skin cancer, it is also the most dangerous and most-life threatening type of skin cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancers can either by basil cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. These types of cancer are more common but are less life-threatening.

Who are at risk of skin cancer in Australia?

Since nearly 95% of all skin cancers can be directly linked to overexposure to the sun, those who spend a lot of time in the sun are at a greater risk from getting this type of cancer.

It is essential that people with the following traits and characteristics to take great care while in the sun:

  • Regular user of solariums, sun beds or sunlamps
  • Fair-skinned
  • Have red or blond hair
  • Have blue or green eyes
  • Have a lot of freckles or moles on their body
  • Smokers
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Previous skin cancer patients
  • Have family history of skin cancer

No matter what your risk factor, it is important that you always wear sunscreen of at least SPF30 when you are going to be out in the sun. You should also wear clothing that protects your skin, including a large brim hat that can shield your face from the sun. It is also suggested to avoid going outside at all during high UV times.

What causes skin cancer?

While studies show that 95% of skin cancers are caused by sunburn, you don't have to actually get a sunburn to damage the skin. Any overexposure to the sun can cause skin cancer. This is why it's so important to protect your skin when you are out in the sun by wearing protective clothing and using SPF30 or higher sunscreen.

According to the Cancer Council solariums are also dangerous as solariums releases dangerous UV and UVB radiation that can be just as damaging as the sun’s rays. They also warn against the use of solar lamps and solar beds. Spray tanning and creams are currently being recommended as a safer alternative to tanning.

Symptoms of skin cancer

Early detection of skin cancer is vital, and can significantly increase your chance of successfully treating the disease. Therefore, it is very important that you understand the different symptoms of skin cancer and how to detect potential problems with your skin.

The first thing you should look for is any odd-shaped moles or lumps on your skin, especially ones that are red, pale and/or crusty. Any mole or marking on the skin that does not heal within four weeks or becomes painful or itchy should be checked by a doctor.

You also should carefully track the current moles that you already have on your skin. You want to take note of any mole that changes in shape, size or colour. This is often one of the first signs of skin cancer and should be checked by a doctor as soon as you notice a change in the mole or marking on the skin.

Get your skin checked-up on a regular basis

It is recommended that you do a complete check of your skin’s moles and marking at least every three months. This will help you detect any changes to your moles and allow you to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Many doctors also suggest that you have a complete skin evaluation at least once a year by a skin clinic or your general practitioner. This will help to ensure that any potential problems with your skin will be detected early and could greatly improve your survival rate if you do ever get skin cancer.

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Richard Laycock

Richard is the Insurance Editor at finder, and has been wrangling insurance Product Disclosure Statements for the last 4 years. When he’s not helping Aussies make sense of the fine print, he can be found testing the quality of Aperol Spritzes in his new found home of New York. Richard studied Journalism at Macquarie University and The Missouri School of Journalism, and has a Tier 1 certification in General Advice for Life Insurance. He has also been published in CSO Australia and Dynamic Business.

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