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Not a week goes by that I don’t talk to someone with a history of cancer. They would like to have life insurance, just like anyone, but insurance quotes take a bit more leg work.

It’s often a stretch and often means going back to doctors and asking for the information, but there is no way that I, or any other agent out there, can accurately quote life insurance with a history of cancer without the pathology. The only exception to that hard and fast rule would be a history of basal cell carcinoma, the most common and least deadly of all cancers.

So, when someone says they had breast cancer or prostate cancer, the next question coming from me is, “do you remember the stage and grade of the cancer?” 90% or more of the time the answer is no. They might remember that it was an early stage or a low grade but those terms are about as generic and useless as they sound. Those are the things oncologists say because frankly they don’t want the patient burdened with details that they won’t understand.

Personally I take exception to that thought process since having that information allows a person to truly educate themselves on what they are facing and what their options are. Knowing the actual stage and grade opens the door to enlisting 2nd opinions, or asking your physician about other treatment options.

From a life insurance underwriting standpoint, no matter what type of cancer you had, the earlier the stage and the lower the grade the better, but in order to shop it those have to be actual values and not just lower and better. An example might, simply stated, be a stage 1, grade 1 cancer. With breast cancer a stage 1 tumor measures less than 2cm/1in. The lymph nodes in the armpit are not affected and there are no signs that the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body. A grade 1 breast cancer means that the cancer cells look very like the normal cells of the breast. They are usually slow growing and are less likely to spread.

So, since the pathology is the key to the rating of the policy, it generally means that clients will need to make a call or go by the oncologist’s office to get a copy of the pathology report. It’s not a big deal and shouldn’t require an appointment or cost anything.

Armed with a pathology report, find an independent agent, preferably one sharp enough to know that you needed that report, and review the entire history from diagnosis through treatment to recovery and cure. Not all cancers are created equal, so stay open to what you will hear from the agent. It might be a good quote and it might be information on how long you will have to wait before you can get offers on life insurance.

Bottom line. From the time of diagnosis for your own education pathology is good to know. A more educated patient feels better about the process and a more educated life insurance client is more likely to get what they need.