October is recognized internationally as breast cancer awareness month. While it shares the spotlight with liver cancer for the duration of the month, the pink ribbon associated with the disease has become a symbol that has managed to transcend breast cancer awareness by creating a universal awareness of cancer and those battling it daily.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund breast cancer is by far the most common cancer found in women, and the second most common cancer overall. With an estimated 18 million new cancer cases reported worldwide, of which 2 million cases were breast cancer, it is impossible to turn a blind eye to the big C. South Africa records about 100 000 new cancer cases annually among the insured population, with about 60 000 cancer-related deaths.

Based on statistics from leading life insurance companies, female claimants are more likely to die of cancer than men, who, in turn, are more prone to die of heart or artery conditions.

Medical breakthroughs and advances
The medical industry has witnessed ground-breaking technological advancements, especially in the fields pertaining to cancer research and medication. These innovations and breakthroughs have revolutionised cancer treatments and contributed to improved patient care, which has increased longevity as a result.

However, as the survival rate or life expectancy increased, so did the costs that accompany the latest and greatest cancer treatment options. In other words, while diagnosis, pathology, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy enjoyed significant improvements, their costs have soared into the heavens.

Whether a scan, a biopsy or a mastectomy, every visit to the doctor comes with a price tag that seems impossible to equate. Even those with superior medical aid policies quickly discover that cancer treatments can easily deplete their cover or savings benefits. Only when we weigh up the alarming costs of clinical trials for new medication or the shocking prices of the equipment used during cancer treatment, can we begin to understand where the money goes.

The true cost of cancer
It is important to remember that medical costs do not remain at the hospital. There will always be unforeseen expenses that follow you home. The more common of these could include:

  • The need to substitute your salary or income
  • Additional transport costs to and from hospitals/clinics
  • Ongoing household expenses and maintenance costs
  • Specific dietary requirements based on treatments
  • Special items: wardrobe adjustments during weight-loss, supplies, adult diapers, wigs, etc.
  • Live-in carer or nurse to assist with daily needs
  • Alterations to a house (wheelchair-friendly, ramps, alarms, accessibility)

Because every person is unique and responds differently to treatment, it’s practically impossible to anticipate what the true hidden costs of cancer could be. It will depend on the type of cancer and the way it has affected the individual’s normal life. It’s not unlikely for a dreaded disease to lead to disability, especially if there was just cause for an operation to remove malignant tumours.

The inevitable reality of a relapse
There can be no better feeling than beating a potentially fatal disease. Many people have triumphed initial diagnoses and overcome the threat of cancer. However, statistics prove that remission could be short-lived.

Anyone who has survived cancer, is aware of the likelihood that they could get the disease again, either by relapsing or by the disease spreading to another organ. Though there are exceptions, once you have been diagnosed with cancer, you will probably face exclusions on your life or medical policies for similar types of claims.

Your financial adviser should be able to provide clarity on the limitations, restrictions or exclusions of your cover. It is advisable to review your medical or risk cover policies on a regular basis to avoid a surprise in the event of being diagnosed with a dreaded disease or becoming disabled.

Planning for cancer
Now that we have established how unpredictable the discovery of cancer can be, and how expensive the onset of treatment can become, it raises the question of preparing for something that can’t be seen or forecasted.

Medical aid cover addresses the immediate expenses that follow the discovery or diagnosis of cancer. Knowing exactly what is included under your medical aid scheme will determine whether you are sufficiently covered for procedures.

Life or risk cover policies are often not structured correct or seriously outdated. As cancer can be found across the three D’s of insurance, namely Disease, Disability, and Death, it is imperative to rework your policies to accommodate for any eventuality, even the potential relapse of a specific disease.

Another point to consider when visiting your adviser, is to enquire about an income protector benefit. Over the years it has become one of the more prominent features that could accommodate for unforeseen expenses by supplementing your anticipated income.

Regardless of your financial position or your risk cover demands, you must regularly do a risk analysis to assess your needs if you were to be diagnosed with cancer.

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