The Problem With Classifying Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma

Jeff Root Jeff Root Posted in Risk
Last updated on May 1, 2019

In an earlier post, we discussed how Hodgkin’s lymphoma could impact your life insurance premium.

What we did not cover is how non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma affects the way underwriter’s assess your risk. This is because underwriters treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas a bit differently.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas are cancers that occur in the lymphoid tissues. Classifying these types of cancers is incredibly complex, which poses a bit of a problem when assessing an insurance applicant’s risk.

The good news is that we have the information necessary to help you navigate the search for the best life insurance for your personal situation. In this article, we will review the basics of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and what insurance underwriters will want to know about your condition.

Classifying Lymphoma

The first thing you should know about non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is that, while the classifications and terminology surrounding this group of cancers are incredibly complex, the main key to assessing the seriousness of the cancer lies in staging.

Staging refers to how much of the cancer is in the body and where it is located. Stages vary from Stage I, which is a localized cancer, to Stage IV, which refers to cancer that has spread. These stages are then further broken down into the sub-categories A, B, and E.

In terms of severity, the sub-classification A is the most preferable, as cancers in this category typically don’t exhibit systemic symptoms, such as fever and weight loss.

Anything in the “B” group refers to cancers that do have systemic symptoms, and the “E” group denotes cancers that have spread to areas adjacent to the lymph nodes.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas typically belong to one of the following three grades:

  • Low: This grade includes small lymphocytic, follicular mixed small cleaved and large cell and follicular small cleaved cell cancers.
  • Intermediate grade lymphomas include follicular large cell cancers, diffused small cell cleaved cancers, diffuse mixed small and large cell cancers and diffuse, large cell, cleaved or noncleaved cell cancers.
  • High-grade lymphomas include large cell immunoblastic, lymphoblastic convoluted or non-convoluted cell cancers and small non-cleaved cell, non-Burkitt’s or Burkitt’s variation of the cancers.

If all of this seems confusing, that’s because – simply put – it is.

Lymphomas are an incredibly complex group of cancers, and each behaves in a specific way. This is why it is so difficult for underwriters to assess the risk of an applicant with lymphoma.

No matter the type of lymphoma you have, there are a few pieces of information your agent and insurance company will need to know before gauging your risk.

The Information You (and Your Agent) Need

Just because non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas are difficult to classify does not mean that you are at a loss when estimating your risk. It simply means you need to have the right information on hand with applying for life insurance.

The first pieces of information you are going to want to present to your agent are:

  • The exact name of the cancer with which you have been diagnosed
  • The stage and substage of your cancer
  • The grade of your cancer
  • The treatment option you have chosen is also important

The next pieces of information you should have on hand are your age and the exact date of your last cancer treatment. When applying for life insurance with most cancers, the longer you have been in remission, the better your chances will be of earning a better life insurance premium.

Your agent will also want to know if you have had any cases of recurrence and what additional medications you may be taking.

The grade of your lymphoma is particularly important when assessing your risk to life insurance companies.

Typically, low-grade lymphomas are unpredictable and are, therefore, difficult to treat. With this type of cancer, it is not uncommon for it to be treated to remission, but to occur fatally years or months later.

If you are an individual under the age of 60 with low-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, you may be declined for coverage, no matter further staging.

If you are between the ages of 60 and 70 and have been diagnosed with Stage I and II lymphoma, you might be able to get a low table rating; and you may be eligible for an even higher table rating if you are over the age of 70 and in otherwise good health.

High and intermediate grade cancers have a significantly lower short-term survival rate than low-grade cancers, but are more responsive to chemotherapy treatments than the other lymphoma classifications.

This means that, if treatments work, the chances for long-term survival with cancers in these stages are much more likely than with low-grade stages.

Depending on the type of treatment chosen and your cancer’s responsiveness, your insurer will most likely make you undergo a waiting period before reapplying and, once you’ve reapplied, a flat extra will be tack onto your premium.

The waiting period can vary from 3 years (if you remain symptom-free or if you have benign monoclonal gammopathy) or 5 years, for those who have Stage II or IV cancers or those who have undergone bone marrow transplants.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to keep in mind when shopping for life insurance with lymphoma is that you never know how life insurance companies will view your risk.

And this means that you should never assume that you cannot find life insurance at a reasonable rate, no matter what your diagnosis is.

We know that shopping for life insurance is often a matter of knowing which companies to approach and how to leverage your risk.

It is our expertise and our commitment to researching breakthroughs in lymphoma research and treatment options that make us a stand-out life insurance resource.

Feel free to check out the rest of our blog for more information on how high-risk diagnoses and disease will impact your life insurance rating and, if you or someone you love has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, give us a call today to find out what this means for your life insurance premiums.

Any questions?  Feel free to email me at krystn@noel-insurance.com, fill out the quote form on the side or call 877-817-2583

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