Melanoma is one of the most serious types of skin cancer. Melanoma is predominantly found on the skin but can occur in other location such as the eye. It begins in skin cells called melanocytes,. Melanocytes make melanin, which gives skin its color. It also protects the deeper layers of the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
When people spend time in the sunlight, the melanocytes make more melanin and cause the skin to tan. This also happens when skin is exposed to other forms of ultraviolet light like tanning booths. If the skin receives too much ultraviolet light, the melanocytes may begin to grow abnormally and become cancerous. This condition is called melanoma.
Melanoma can happen to anyone. You could get melanoma regardless of your gender or age. But certain factors put you at increased risk:
- Ultraviolet light exposure
- Atypical, or dysplastic, moles
- Multiple benign moles
- Fair complexion
- Family history
- Conditions and medications that suppress the immune system
As of 2011, the following numbers show the significance of melanoma:
- The National Cancer Institute estimated that 70,230 people in the US would be diagnosed with melanoma.
- Approximately 8,790 would die from this cancer.
- Annual spending on melanoma treatment was estimated to be about $1.9 billion in 2010.
- The incidence rate of melanoma is steadily increasing.
Treatment and Prevention
The American Cancer Society recommends professional skin examinations every three years for people between the ages of 20 and 40 and once a year for people above 40 years of age. Try to examine your skin once a month, using a mirror to check hard-to-see places. Get to know your skin and call your doctor if you notice any changes.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to sunlight. Try to avoid prolonged sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm when the ultraviolet light is most intense. Protect the skin by wearing hats and sunscreen and avoid tanning beds.
To treat melanoma, the skin cancer and some surrounding tissue has to be removed. The amount of skin removed depends on how deep the melanoma has grown. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, these lymph nodes may also be removed. Treatment becomes more difficult when the melanoma has spread to other organs. You may also receive:
- Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells. It is usually given if the melanoma has returned or spread.
- Immunotherapy medications such as interferon or interleukin to help your immune system fight the cancer. They may be used along with chemotherapy and surgery.
- Radiation treatments to relieve pain or discomfort caused by cancer that has spread.
What Life Insurance Companies Look For
Life insurance companies want to see that applicants with a history of melanoma have (1) received full treatment, and (2) have completed regular follow up visits per doctor’s orders.
The life insurance company you apply with will be looking specifically at:
- Your age at diagnosis
- The amount of time since diagnosis
- The stage and grade of cancer
- The tumor size
- Any lymphatic node involvement
- Whether metastasis is present
- The mitotic rate, or how rapidly the cancer cells are dividing
- Whether there is ulceration, or a missing layer of the melanoma
- Whether there was any recurrence of cancer following recovery
- Length of time since treatment and/or recovery
- The treatment success and adherence to treatment recommendations
- Follow up visits as recommended by doctor
- Whether you are a tobacco/drug/alcohol user
- Any other major health problems
How to Prepare for Your Term Life Insurance Application
There are important measures you can take to prepare yourself before applying for term life insurance. Doing so will help your chances of getting approved at the best rating class possible. Use the following tips to get the best possible rate:
- Have all doctors’ name/address/phone available.
- Make sure your doctor(s) has copies of all records regarding the cancer treatment, pathology reports, and follow up reports.
- Have a list of all medications and their dosages available.
- Do not skip any follow up visits with your doctor.
Real Examples from Real Customers
Kevin applied for life insurance when he was 52 year old.
- Diagnosed at age 48
- He has no family history of melanoma
- His medical records clearly document his successful treatment
- Regular checkups with the dermatologist have all been normal
- Outcome: Approved at a Standard Plus rating class
- Premium: $294 annually
Not so Good Outcome:
Robert applied for term life insurance when he was 45 years old.
- Diagnosed at 40
- Had a 3 mm melanoma with ulceration removed
- Follow up visits with the dermatologist have been favorable
- Outcome: Approved at a Substandard Table 2 rating plus a flat extra of $10 per thousand for three years
- Premium: $1,296 annually
Sally applied for term life insurance when she was 55 years old.
- Diagnosed at 53
- Treated for melanoma metastatic to three lymph nodes
- A parent and sibling died from melanoma
- This applicant has not seen a doctor for eighteen months
- Outcome: Declined
You can see Kevin had the best outcome, due to a low-stage melanoma that was caught early and treated. Receiving regular follow up appointments with his doctor also helped. Robert’s melanoma was more extensive, and although he had no other medical conditions and good follow up results, the thickness of his cancer gave him a worse prognosis. Finally, Sally had the poorest outcome. Her melanoma was the most severe and she had a family history of melanoma. This along with her lack of routine follow ups resulted in the decline of her application.
What This All Means to You
The good news about applying for term life insurance when you have melanoma is — yes, you can qualify for coverage! The bad news is the approval and rating class can be very unpredictable and subjective. However, if you follow the advice we’ve provided and, more importantly, discuss your situation with your life insurance agent or broker, you can have a positive outcome.
And remember, if you are not pleased with the offer you receive, you can always try with another company or put the policy in force and work on improving the rating class through better control and lab results.
Sources: American College of Physicians, Mayo Clinic