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Skin cancer is probably one of the most common forms of cancer, especially here in the sunny southwest and growing up in the Rocky mountains as I did with very little between us and the sun’s UV rays. Sunscreen didn’t show up on the scene until I was in my 20’s and with sun being the cause of more than 90% of skin cancer, that puts many who grew up in uneducated and unprotected times at risk.

There are three types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and the most vicious of the three, melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common of the three and accounts for about a million new cases of skin cancer each year according the the Skin Cancer Foundation. While basal cell in fairly detectable and treatable, left undetected and untreated, “it can be resistant to treatment or locally aggressive, damaging the skin around them, and sometimes invading bone and cartilage. When not treated quickly, they can be difficult to eliminate. Fortunately, however, this is a cancer that has an extremely low rate of metastasis, and although it can result in scars and disfigurement, it is not usually life threatening”, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

From a life insurance standpoint, companies seem to be split on how seriously they view basal cell. Just a few years ago it was not a rateable issue at all, even if you had several instances of basal cell over the years. Now, most companies will not offer preferred rates for multiple instances. This seems to have risen from a study that shows that people that get skin cancer have certain traits that make them susceptible to more instances. Multiple instances seem to increase the chance of developing a melanoma. Many still offer their best rate if there has only been a single instance. On the upside for both the life insurance companies and the customers, once a person has been diagnosed with skin cancer, they tend to get very regular checkups which is one of the keys to early detection and successful treatment.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer with about 250,000 new cases each year. Like basal cell, detected early, it has a very high success rate for treatment. Again, life insurance companies in general aren’t too brutal if there has only been one case, but multiple instances will be looked at more carefully. This is another instance in which a good independent agent should be engaged to help. With companies literally all over the underwriting map on basal and squamous cell carcinoma, you need an agent that knows where and where not to take your business.

That brings us to melanoma and just why life insurance underwriters take this form of skin cancer very seriously. Again, turning to the Skin Cancer Foundation, they define melanoma this way. “Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. However, if it is recognized and treated early, it is nearly 100 percent curable. But if it is not, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. While it is not the most common of the skin cancers, it causes the most deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2007, there will be 8,110 fatalities, 5,220 in men and 2,800 in women in the U.S. The number of new cases of melanoma is estimated at 59,940; of these, 33,910 will be in men and 26,030 in women.”

While death is a fairly rare occurrence with the first two types of skin cancer, melanoma is a seriously invasive cancer unless caught very early. Even if you have survived melanoma, insurance underwriters are cautious in their underwriting decisions for several years after successful treatment.

Bottom line. Those of us that grew up pre-suncreen and pre-skin cancer awareness, should get checked by a dermatologist on a fairly regular basis. Those of you who grew up in an era when we knew more about the risk should protect yourself.

This post is somewhat dated. Life insurance underwriting is changing and evolving continually. For more updated information check out some of the key word links. If you have a specific question or topic you need information for do a search. If you don’t find the answers you need contact me and we’ll make sure you get the information that is important to you.