Cancer and buying insurance

Insurance protects your finances against unexpected events. If you are affected by cancer, it is important to think about insurance.

Insurers assess your personal information to estimate how likely you are to claim. The amount you pay is called a premium. If you are living with cancer or have had cancer, you may face higher premiums, special conditions or refusal when trying to buy life, health or travel insurances.

You may be asked some difficult questions about your health or asked to have a medical examination. While unfair discrimination is illegal, insurers can treat a person differently if their disability increases the risk of claiming. But this is only if it is based on relevant evidence. If challenged, the insurers will need to show they have met this condition.

Getting insurance unrelated to your health should not be a problem. Car insurance, for example, is not normally affected.

Premiums will vary from one insurer to another – it is important to compare deals. Contact our financial guides on 0808 808 00 00 for advice on your options or making a complaint.

What is insurance?

Insurance is a financial product. Buying insurance helps you protect yourself against risks and financial loss. You can get insurance that will pay out money if you are too ill to work, or provide for your family if you die.

  • When you buy insurance, you take out an insurance policy. This is a contract between you and the insurance company (the insurer).
  • Your policy means you are protected against certain risks or situations, limited by specific terms that you agree with insurer. The protection offered by your insurance policy is called cover.
  • You pay for your policy by paying premiums – these are payments you make to the insurer, usually every month. How much your premiums are will depend on your situation and what you are being insured for.
  • If the event or situation you are protected against happens, you can contact your insurer to make a claim on your insurance policy.
  • If the terms of the policy have been met your insurer will give you a payout.
  • There are lots of types of insurance policy which will protect you against different things. It is very important to understand how you are protected, and how much money you will receive if you need to claim.

The different types of insurance include:

  • Health insurance – this may pay you money if you become too ill to work.
  • Life insurance – this may provide your family or partner with money if you die.
  • Travel insurance – this may pay for medical treatment if you have an accident or become ill while you are on holiday.
  • Car insurance – this may cover you if you have a car accident, car fire or your car is stolen.

You might be worried about making a claim on an insurance policy, or the financial jargon around insurance policies. If you have any questions, why not give us a call?

Craig, Macmillan financial guide

How insurance works

There are different ways to buy insurance:

  • You can buy directly from an insurer, on the phone or online.
  • You can use a price comparison website such as uSwitch or . They will compare the cost of the insurance you want from lots of different companies.
  • You can get help from an insurance broker. They can help you compare deals from different insurers. To find an insurance broker, contact the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA).
  • You can get help from a financial adviser. They can give you specialist financial advice and recommend financial products for your situation.
  • You might also have some types of insurance included with your bank or building society account, particularly travel insurance. You should check with your bank or building society if this is the case.


You pay for your insurance policy by paying premiums. Insurers get premiums from everyone who has a policy with them. They make sure all the premiums they get add up to enough money for them to cover all the claims people make, as well as covering their own costs and making a profit.

To decide how much your premium will be, insurers use a process called underwriting. They will:

  • collect information from you about yourself and your situation
  • use that information to decide how likely you are to claim
  • check how often other people in similar situations have claimed before.

The insurance market is competitive and premiums vary from one insurer to another, so it is important to search for the best option for you.

If you are paying a regular premium for a policy the insurance continues for as long as you keep paying the premium. A regular premium might be one payment each month, for example.

The premiums are set at the time you start the policy and take into account your health at that time. If there is a change in your health after the policy has started, it doesn’t affect the premiums for a policy you already have. However, it will affect the premiums for any new policy.

If you stop paying your premiums, your cover will stop unless you have a waiver of premium benefit.

Waiver of premium benefit

A waiver of premium benefit means you will not be required to pay your insurance premiums if you cannot work because of illness or disability. This is an optional part of an insurance policy, or is sometimes a separate policy. You may have this with a life insurance policy or a pension plan.

Depending on the policy, this may carry on until:

  • you return to work
  • you reach a set age
  • the insurance policy term ends
  • a set date.
Your premiums might be higher if your policy includes a waiver of premium benefit.

Giving your insurer medical information

To decide how likely it is you might make a claim, insurers will ask you questions. With health or life insurance, they may want to see your medical reports or ask you to have a medical examination. The insurer will pay for your medical reports and examinations.

You do not have to agree to medical reports or examinations. But if the insurer doesn’t have enough information to assess your application, they may refuse to cover you.

If you are worried about talking about your medical situation, you can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00.

When buying insurance or making a claim, it is really important that you answer the insurer’s questions fully and truthfully. You must give the most accurate information you can. If you don’t they may refuse to insure you, or refuse to pay out if you make a claim.

If you are likely to claim

If your situation means you are more likely than the average person to make an insurance claim, this can affect what an insurer will offer you. An insurer may do one of the following:

Refuse to insure you

If you are struggling to find insurance cover, an insurance broker might be able to help you. You can also contact our financial guides to talk about your options.

Charge you a higher premium

For example, if you have a car accident your car insurance premium may go up. Or your travel insurance might be more expensive if you want to go skiing. The insurer has to make sure the increase in the premium matches the increase in risk.

Apply an excess

An excess is an amount of money you have to pay towards the cost of making an insurance claim. For example, if you have a successful claim for £750 and an excess of £500, the insurer will pay you £250. If you choose a policy with a higher excess, your premium may be cheaper.

Apply an exclusion

An exclusion is something that is not specifically covered by the insurer, so there is no payout if it happens. This could include specific health issues. This means there would be no payout for anything related to the health issue that is excluded. If you choose a policy with exclusions based on your medical history, it is important to understand which claims will and won’t be paid.

How cancer can affect buying insurance

When you already have a health problem before buying insurance, insurers call this a pre-existing condition. If your policy says you have to declare any pre-existing medical conditions, you will need to tell your insurer if you are living with cancer or have had cancer.

In this situation, you may be:

  • charged higher premiums
  • offered a policy with special conditions (such as an exclusion)
  • refused insurance by an insurer.

The premiums you are offered if you are living with cancer, or if you have had cancer, can vary. This means searching for the best insurance deal is very important.

Does cancer affect all forms of insurance?

You shouldn’t have problems getting insurance that has no link to your health, such as home insurance. If you do have problems, contact our financial guides for information about making a complaint.

Family members

Your close family members (such as children, brothers and sisters) may also find it hard to get standard life and health insurance. This is because people with close family members who have had cancer may, in a small number of cases, be at a higher than average risk of getting the same cancer.

If you are receiving hospital treatment, waiting to begin hospital treatment or have a terminal condition, this could also affect your close family members if they try to buy travel insurance.

Being prepared for questions

When you talk to insurers, you may be asked some difficult or upsetting questions about your health. For example, they may ask about the likely outcome of your cancer (your prognosis). Unfortunately, not all insurers are sensitive to the needs of people affected by cancer.

Depending on how you feel when talking about your cancer, you may find it easier to contact only one or two companies at a time. Or you could contact an insurance broker who can do the research for you.

Unfair discrimination

Cancer is recognised as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (England, Scotland and Wales) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Northern Ireland). These acts make it illegal to treat people differently because of a disability. They protect you against discrimination even after you have been successfully treated for cancer. But there are different rules for insurance.

An insurer can treat a person with a disability differently if the disability increases the risk of them making a claim. But they can only do this if:

  • the assessment of your risk of claiming is based on relevant information
  • the information is from a reliable source, such as statistical data or medical reports
  • the way the insurer treats the person is reasonable, given the information available.

If they are challenged, the insurer will have to provide evidence to show that they have met these conditions.

For information and help about unfair discrimination because of cancer, you can contact the Equality Advisory Support Service (England, Scotland and Wales) or the Equality Commission (Northern Ireland).

Discrimination at work

We have information about discrimination at work and how you are protected if you are affected by cancer.

If you are self-employed, we have information about how cancer might affect your work.

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head and neck cancers and what to expect


with and after treatment for head and neck cancers


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