Cancer and buying insurance

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

Different types of insurance include:

  • health insurance
  • life insurance
  • protection insurance
  • travel insurance
  • car 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 insurance. You may be asked some difficult questions about your health or asked to have a medical examination.

Unfair discrimination is illegal. But insurers can treat a person differently if their disability increases the risk of someone making a claim. This is only if it is based on relevant evidence. If challenged, the insurers will need to show they have met this condition.

You can speak to our financial guides on 0808 808 00 00 for more advice and information on insurance.

What is insurance?

Insurance is a financial product. Buying insurance can protect you against financial loss. It will pay out money if you are too ill to work, or it will 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 losing money in certain situations. This protection is called cover. Your insurance policy document will list exactly what you are protected against, and how much money you will be paid. It will also list what you are not protected against.

You will make regular payments for your policy to the insurer. This is usually every month or every year. These payments are called premiums. How much they are will depend on your situation and the type of cover you need.

If the event or situation you are protected against happens, you can contact your insurer to make a claim on your insurance policy.

If your policy covers the situation you are claiming for, your insurer will give you money. This is called a payout.

My monthly pension’s less than £12, which doesn’t go far. Fortunately I had some insurance policies that I’ve been able to surrender and invest for income.


Types of insurance

There are lots of insurance policies which will protect you against different things. It is very important to understand:

  • what you are covered for
  • how much money you will get if you need to claim.

Different types of insurance include the following:

  • Health insurance. This can help cover medical costs or repay the cost of private treatment.
  • Life insurance. This may provide your family or partner with money if you die.
  • Protection insurance. This can help cover your costs if you become too ill to work or are diagnosed with a serious illness.
  • Travel insurance. This may pay for medical treatment if you have an accident or become ill while you are in another country.
  • Car insurance. This may cover you if you have a car accident or car fire, or if your car is stolen.


Some types of insurance are short-term. For example, you can pay once for a travel insurance policy that only covers you while you are on holiday. Other policies will continue for as long as you keep paying a regular premium. These include some types of life insurance. For example, you might make one payment each month. For some policies, such as car insurance, you might need to review your policy each year.

Premiums are set when you start the policy. They will look at your health at that time. If your health changes after the policy has started, it does not 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 (see below).

Excess payments

An insurer might apply an excess charge to an insurance policy. This is an amount you will need to pay towards any claim.

When you make a claim, the insurer may take this money off the final amount it pays out. For example, the excess on the policy may be £50. If you make a successful claim for £250, the insurer may pay you £200.

Or you may need to pay the excess payment directly to someone providing a service that your insurance is paying for. For example, this could include a private hospital or car repair company.

Waiver of premium benefit

A waiver of premium benefit is an optional part of an insurance policy. It can sometimes be a separate policy. It can be taken out on a wide range of different insurance policies. Waiver of premium means your insurance premiums will be covered if you cannot work because of illness or disability. So you keep your insurance policy even if you cannot pay the premiums because you are not working or are on a low income. You will usually have to be off work for longer than 6 months before you can claim this benefit.

Depending on the policy, this may continue until:

  • you return to work
  • you reach a set age
  • the insurance policy term ends
  • a set date.

If your policy includes a waiver of premium benefit, your premiums might be higher. If you have this benefit, you will need to contact your insurance company to make a claim.

Buying insurance

When choosing an insurance policy, you need to consider your personal situation. You might want to think about:

  • the type and amount of cover you need
  • how long you need the cover for
  • the amount of premium you can afford
  • your health and the health of your family.

It is important to understand what you are buying. The Financial Conduct Authority says that an insurer has to give you information in a standard way about:

  • risk
  • charges
  • other important matters.

This helps you understand the policy and compare it with similar policies from other insurers.

Make sure you read the whole product document, including any small print. The main features of many products are explained in a booklet or section called Key Facts. It may also be called an Initial Disclosure Document.

You can easily identify this information because it is labelled with this logo:

Key Facts logo
Key Facts logo

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Getting a quote

Insurers will ask you for some information about you and your situation. They will use this to estimate how likely you are to make a claim. They will then decide what premium to charge you. This is called a quote.

To assess how likely you are to make a claim, insurers will ask you questions about the type of situation you need cover for. For example, they might ask questions about your health for life or travel insurance. Or they might ask about the type of car you have for car insurance.

If you want to claim health or life insurance, insurers may also want to see your medical reports. Or they may 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 does not have enough information to assess your application, they may not cover you.

You must answer the questions honestly and make sure that your answers are accurate. If you do not, the insurer may not pay out if you make a claim later.

You can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 and speak to our financial guides. They can advise you about what to say to your insurer.

Once the insurer has all the information you need, they will provide you with a quote. This is an estimate of what the policy will cost and what it will cover.

The insurer will see if the risk of you claiming on insurance looks higher than normal, compared to the general population. They may then do one of the following things:

  • They may charge you a higher premium than the standard rate.
  • They may apply an additional excess. This is where you need to pay a certain amount of money towards any claim you make. If you choose a policy with a higher excess, the premium may be cheaper. The difference is often quite small, so check with the insurer before buying.
  • They may apply exclusions – this is where the company will not cover the types of claim it thinks you are most likely to make. If you choose a policy with exclusions based on your medical history, make sure you understand exactly what you are covered for.
  • They may refuse to insure you now, but agree to look at your situation again at a later time.
  • They may refuse to insure you at all.

The insurance market is competitive, and some insurers will charge higher premiums than others for the same level of cover. It is important to look at a range of providers and quotes, especially if you have a medical condition. Insurers call this having a pre-existing medical condition.

An insurance broker or financial adviser can help you compare quotes from different insurance providers. When you are choosing a broker or adviser, always check that they are reliable and trustworthy. The British Insurance Brokers’ Association has a list of brokers. You can call them on 0370 950 1790, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Or you can visit

Cancer and buying insurance

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

You may be asked some difficult questions about your health. Or you may be asked to have a medical examination. While unfair discrimination is illegal, insurers can treat a person differently if their medical condition means they are more likely to make a claim. But they can only do this if the assessment of your risk of claiming is based on relevant evidence. Insurers will need to show they have this.

It is important to compare quotes from different insurers to get the best deal. If you think you have been discriminated against, contact our financial guides on 0808 808 00 00 for advice on your options or making a complaint.

Does cancer affect all forms of insurance?

You should not have problems getting insurance that is not related to your health, such as home insurance. If you do, call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 to speak to our financial guides. They can give you information about making a complaint.

Family members

People with close family members who have had cancer may be at a higher risk of getting the same cancer. This is only likely to happen in a very small number of cases. But it might mean that your close family members may also find it more difficult, or more expensive, to get some types of insurance. Close family members include any children, brothers and sisters.

If you are having hospital treatment, are 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. We have more information on how cancer can affect travel insurance.

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. To find an insurance broker, contact the British Insurance Brokers' Association (BIBA) on 0370 950 1790, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Or you can visit

Charge you a higher premium

If you have a medical condition, life insurance or health insurance might cost more. This is because the insurer may increase the premium to match 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.

Apply an exclusion

An exclusion is something that is not covered by the insurance policy. So there is no payout if it happens. This could include specific health issues such as cancer. 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 what is covered and what is not.

Agree to review at a later date

If you are still having tests or treatment, an insurer might refuse to give you cover straight away. However, they may agree to review your application at a later time, when you know more about your diagnosis or have finished treatment.

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

Craig, Macmillan financial guide

Unfair discrimination

Cancer is recognised by law as a disability.

  • If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, you are protected by the Equality Act 2010.
  • If you live in Northern Ireland, you are protected by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

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 the insurer is challenged, they have to provide evidence to show that they have met these conditions.

For information and support about unfair discrimination because of cancer, contact:

Back to Insurance

Health insurance

Cancer may affect your decisions about buying or claiming on health insurance.

Life insurance

Life insurance policies pay out money when you die. Having cancer may affect the life insurance you can get.

Protection insurance

Protection insurance can pay out money if you become too ill to work or are diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer.

Car insurance

Your car insurance should only be affected if the cancer makes it difficult or dangerous for you to drive.