The most common form of cancer is skin cancer, with one in six Americans developing the cancer at some point in their lifetime. Every year, roughly 700,000 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer, resulting from overexposure to sunlight.
May is Melanoma Awareness Month and, because of this, we thought there was no better time to discuss skin cancer and how it impacts your life insurance coverage.
Those at the highest risk for developing the disease are individuals with fair skin – particularly those with red or blonde hair – and those individuals who have had a family history of the disease.
Because skin cancer is so common, its impacts on obtaining affordable life insurance will vary widely.
In this article, we’ll examine a breakdown of skin cancer classifications, treatment, prevention and the information you will need to know to prepare your for a life insurance application after a skin cancer diagnosis.
Classifying Skin Cancer
There are three broad classifications of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma.
The first, basal cell carcinoma, is the most common form of skin cancer. This type of cancer is, more often than not, caught early and does not spread to surrounding tissues, although recurrence of this type of cancer is common.
Basal cell carcinoma is formed when a small skin nodule begins to grow in size and is typically removed surgically.
Squamous cell carcinoma typically appears as a red patch or a reddish nodule. This type of skin cancer, like basal cell carcinoma, is removed surgically and it likely to recur.
Unfortunately, squamous cell carcinoma is also more likely to spread; in fact, roughly 10% of individuals with this type of cancer develop cancer elsewhere
Malignant melanoma is the rarest and most deadly of the three skin cancer classifications; this type of cancer accounts for less than one percent of skin cancer diagnoses but comprises the vast majority of skin cancer-related deaths.
An estimated 76,380 new cases of melanoma are expected to be diagnosed in 2016, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.
Despite these statistics, melanoma is often curable by surgical removal, and the prognosis of the disease depends on the depth of the cancer and its vertical spread.
Skin cancer is measured via two primary means, known as the Clark Level and Breslow Scale.
The Clark Level of invasion was designed by pathologist William Clark in order to measure the depth of melanoma penetration. This depth is measured by indicating which anatomical layer of skin the cancer has reached;
- Level I refers to melanoma that is confined to the epidermis, or the outermost layer of the skin. This is sometimes referred to as “melanoma in situ.” In terms of life insurance underwriting, this level typically earns a “standard” rating.
- Level II melanomas have penetrated into the dermis, or the second layer of skin. At this level, an applicant can reasonably expect to pay a small flat extra, ranging between $7 and $10 per every $1,000 of the policy. This will vary on a case-by-case basis and typically does not exceed 5 years.
- Level III-IV melanomas are still contained within the second layer of skin, but have gone deeper into the dermis. At these levels, you may face a waiting period between 3 to 5 years or a flat extra onto your premium.
- Level V refers to melanoma that has spread into the fat of the skin underneath the dermis, also known as the subcutis. At this level, many insurers will deem a candidate too high risk to insure. If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer at this level, please speak to your agent about the coverage options available to you.
While the Clark Level system is used by insurers, the Breslow Scale, noting the vertical thickness of the cancer, is given more weight when assessing a cancer risk.
Named for Alexander Breslow, this measurement system predicts 5-year survival rate based on invasive tumor thickness.
If a tumor is thicker than 1.0 millimeters, the 5-year survival rate of patients drastically drops; from 97% at a 1.0 millimeter or less thickness to 32% for 8 millimeters or more.
What Your Agent Will Want To Know
In addition to your age, sex, height, and weight, your agent will want to know the following:
- The type of skin cancer you have been diagnosed with
- The dates of both your diagnosis and last treatments
- The grades assigned to the cancer, including the Breslow Scale and the Clark Level
- Have you had any evidence of recurrence
- A list of medications you are currently taking.
All of this information is used to provide a preliminary assessment of your risk, but the good news is that you can assess your risk and take an active part in preventing the formation of skin cancer.
Skin cancer may be the most common form of cancer, but there are measures that can be taken to lower your risk of developing the disease.
Reducing Your Risk
The first step in reducing your risk is knowing your risk.
In 1975, Harvard Medical School attendee Thomas Fitzpatrick, MD developed the Fitzpatrick Skin Type. This test has individuals answer a series of questions pertaining to their genetic disposition and their skin’s reaction to the sun.
Each question or category has a corresponding number. Once these numbers add up, they indicate how likely an individual is to develop skin cancer.
The classifications are simple enough for you to do at home to begin to understand your own risk for developing skin cancer.
A score of 0 to 6 indicated extreme susceptibility to the development of this type of cancer; a score between 7 and 12 indicates a high susceptibility; 13 to 18 indicates average susceptibility and any score above 19 indicates a lower risk.
However; even if you are a lower risk for developing skin cancer, you should still take precautionary measures against sun damage.
Wearing an SPF of at least 15 every day and ensuring that you seek shade and regularly check your body for abnormalities in freckles or moles are all ways in which you can proactively prevent skin cancer.
If you have any questions about preventing skin cancer, please visit The Skin Cancer Foundation’s website or speak to your dermatologist or physician.
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