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In a post a few days ago concerning the practice of “watchful waiting” that is used in low stage, low grade prostate cancer, I offered to poll several life insurance companies to see how they felt about the practice from a life insurance risk standpoint.

The question really comes down to this. Is watchful waiting a treatment? We know that companies like Prudential underwrite low stage and grade prostate cancer very aggressively if it is traditionally treated and the results are the expected results. For instance, with a radical prostatectomy, the PSA goes down to 0 and stays there.

Here are the results from the first 5 companies that responded to the question, “is there a situation or an age at which watchful waiting would provide an acceptable life insurance risk?” For the purpose of the question, I used a Gleason grade 6 and a T1 stage.

Prucential -  Quote Declined. Sorry, unable to consider watchful waiting with a Gleason 6 cancer.

ING Reliastar -  Cannot consider at any age until treated with prostatectomy or radiation

Met Life – Regret we would make no offer on a watchful waiting case

American General -  Would not offer coverage on untreated prostate cancer

Genworth – We would make no offfer at any age

I think I’m seeing a pattern here. Not an unreasonable pattern, but nevertheless, a pattern that put’s the cancer victim in something of a quandary. On the one side they have their trusted physician making a prudent recommendation based on the best medical knowledge. If there is a chance that the cancer will never need to be treated, watchful waiting makes sense.

On the other side, a life insurance underwriter is stuck with evaluating a risk based on the outcome of treatment. There are some risks that they will accept at higher rates without conclusive treatment. High cholesterol and high blood pressure come to mind. But, even though the odds are in the prostate cancer patient’s favor with watchful waiting, it’s a little tough for an underwriter to fully embrace an untreated cancer that can kill you and kills tens of thousands annually.

Bottom line. The good news for those in this Catch 22 is that, if you and your doctor have chosen watchful waiting, you are likely not going to die from the cancer. The unfortunate news is that, even though the cancer doesn’t appear to be a mortality risk, you can’t get the insurance that would cover other possible causes of death. Unlike health insurance, you can’t exclude cancer and have everything else covered.