The vital statistics of breast cancer

This is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which aims to raise awareness of the risk of suffering from breast cancer. It also aims to raise awareness of the disease among health professionals and to raise funds for research.

The Financial Services Authority recently suggested people using inappropriate illness statistics in the promotion of critical illness insurance are scaremongering. But you have a duty to inform your clients of the risk of illness so it’s worth taking a close look at the statistics on breast cancer and how these relate to critical illness insurance.

The risk of women developing breast cancer is one in nine. Age is one of the biggest factors. Women over 50 are particularly at risk, though it is not unknown for women under this age to have breast cancer. Other risk factors include a family history of the disease, a previous cancer, and taking hormone replacement therapy for 10 to 15 years.

How does this relate to CI? Well, not all types of cancer are covered by the cancer definition for CI. The ABI says it covers “any malignant tumour characterised by the uncontrolled growth and spread of malignant cells and invasion of tissue”.

So what does this mean for breast cancer? To meet the ABI definition, the cancer must have progressed to a point whereby it has invaded the cells in the surrounding tissue. If the cancer hasn’t progressed to this point it’s sometimes referred to as ‘pre-malignant’, ‘non-invasive’ or as a ‘cancer in situ’ – not meeting the definition.

So early forms of breast cancer will not be covered. This applies even if a mastectomy is used to treat the early stage tumour, though this invasive treatment is becoming less used and lumpectomies are increasingly common.

Your client may ask if a history of breast cancer in their family will affect their CI application. The risk of breast cancer is higher if there is a family history but CI will normally still be available though this is dependent on the client’s age when they apply for cover, the number of relatives affected and the ages at which they were diagnosed. Although it is not unheard of for men to suffer from breast cancer the risk is so small (less than 1% of cases) that a family history is unlikely to affect a CI application.

Be aware of what is and isn’t covered with diseases, especially as people are being made more aware of specific types of cancer. By understanding what is covered and how family history affects applications you will be better placed to help your customers understand their protection needs.Nick Kirwan is protection marketing director at Scottish Widows