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Underwriting made simple: Cancer

03 February 2020

A history of cancer was once an instant decline by underwriters; now even standard rates of cover are possible…


One in two people in the UK will get cancer at some point in their lives, with more than 360,000 people diagnosed every year.

And, while advances in treatment mean that cancer survival rates have doubled over the last 40 years, it still accounts for more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK.

Given these statistics, protection has an important role to play in helping people safeguard their financial futures. Whether providing for a family or covering the cost of taking time off work and expenses such as travel and hospital car parking, it offers considerable peace of mind.

Claims statistics

The importance of protection can be seen in our claims statistics, where cancer accounts for a significant proportion of the claims we pay.

It’s the number one cause of critical illness claims, making up more than 63% of all individual claims in 2019. Of these, breast cancer is the most common claim, representing nearly a fifth (18%) of all the critical illness claims we receive.

Cancer is also a common claim on our income protection, accounting for 18% of claims in 2019.

Assessing risk

With cancer such a common claim, underwriters at Zurich assess the risk by looking at factors such as the individual’s medical history, their family history of cancer and their lifestyle, including smoking and alcohol consumption.

Predictive genetic tests are available to determine the risk of various conditions including some cancers but, following an agreement between the government and the Association of British Insurers, the results of these cannot be used when underwriting the vast majority of protection policies.

Covering cancer

Improvements in the way that cancer is detected and treated also mean it’s possible to offer cover to some people who have had a cancer diagnosis.

In fact, Nicky Bray, chief underwriter at Zurich, says depending on factors such as the nature of the cancer, the type of treatment and the length of time since diagnosis, it may even be possible to offer standard rates.

During the application process, everyone is asked whether they’ve had cancer, with those saying yes providing further basic information such as the type of cancer, when they had it, the treatment they had and the results of any tests.

Medical details

It’s not possible to offer terms in all cases. For instance, where the cancer is stage 3 or higher, or the diagnosis was within the last 12 months, it’s unlikely that we would be able offer cover. However, less invasive cancers could be identified and treated early enough which means we could offer terms after one year only.

In these cases, the underwriters would request a GP report to enable them to fully understand the nature of the cancer and how it affects risk. This would include information such as the type of cell changes in the cancer; how many lymph nodes were affected; and the nature of the treatment they received. It may also include hospital letters from their oncologist and copies of any related scans or tests following treatment.

Cancer terms

Based on this information, and alongside other details provided in the application, the underwriters can determine whether cover is possible and the terms.

A rating may be applied to the premium in recognition of the additional risk, or it may be necessary to exclude cancer from the cover. In some cases, standard rates are possible.

Nicky Bray said it is also important to note that even when someone is declined as a result of a cancer diagnosis, they may be able to get cover in the future when the risk has reduced. Underwriters are constantly analysing the latest research relating to cancer to enable them to assess the risk accurately.

Cancer used to be an instant decline for protection underwriters but, as both treatment and diagnosis improves, it’s becoming possible to offer terms to more and more people who have had cancer. Today, thanks to these advances, around 50% of people with cancer will live more than 10 years after diagnosis: enabling as many of them as possible to access protection is a must.