The financial consequences of breast cancer – And how clients can prepare for these

When it comes to breast cancer and its costs, it’s all about being prepared says industry challenger BrightRock.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and in South Africa, statistics show that 1 in 29 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. A man’s chance of getting breast cancer is about 100 times lower than that of a woman.

It’s also one of the most preventable and treatable cancers. If detected early (at stage 0 or stage 1), five-year survival rates* are around 80% – 90%. At stage III, the survival rate is between 40% – 60%. At stage IV, this dwindles to only 15%. [2] Obesity, poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles, alcohol use, smoking and stress can put women at higher risk of developing breast cancer. The risk also increases significantly with age – the majority of cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 60 years.

Fortunately, regular screening can lead to early detection. Women of all ages should do regular self-examination of their breasts . However, women over the age of 40 are advised to have mammogram annually.

Dealing with breast cancer’s costs:

The cost of breast cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and aggression of the cancer. Treatment could include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. As you may be aware, medical schemes are compelled to provide coverage for treatable breast cancer (subject to certain maximum limits), as it’s one of the Prescribed Minimum Benefits. The level of coverage is dependent on the medical aid option selected. Many medical aids offer coverage for related expenses like the cost of a wig during chemotherapy, the cost of breast prostheses and, in some cases, the cost of reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy. However, where women opt for treatment with some of the more expensive biological drugs or any form of experimental treatment, medical schemes may decline funding.

Life insurance:

Besides the costs of treatment covered by medical aid, there may be out-of-pocket medical expenses or additional costs that don’t relate directly to medical treatment. For example, the cost of hiring a driver or aftercare for children while the sufferer is undergoing treatment.

These unforeseen additional expenses that may result because of serious diseases like cancer costs are covered by dread disease or critical illness cover.  In advising clients, it’s important to make a clear distinction for client between their dread disease cover versus their disability and death cover. Disability cover aims to provide the client or their family with an income if they cannot work because of an illness or injury. Death cover provides a pay-out to cover costs like funeral expenses, estate duty and to provide an income for dependants after the client’s death.

Types of policies:

Standalone cover: Many providers will reduce a policyholder’s cover for death or disability when they receive a pay-out under their critical illness benefit, or vice versa. As the different cover components are intended to meet very distinct financial needs, this could leave the client exposed. Standalone cover for additional expense needs mitigates this risk;

Coverage for preventive surgery or early detection: Most insurance providers will pay clients out for the later stages of cancer. Some providers sell separate products that provide coverage at the earliest stages, stage 0 or stage 1 – but these may come at an additional cost. And some providers include coverage for the earlier stages of breast cancer as part of their standard critical illness product, at no additional cost – or will even pay the client out if, like Angelina Jolie, a gene test has shown that they’re at high risk and have had a prophylactic mastectomy on medical advice.

Cover for progressions and multiple claims: Because cancer is a progressive disease, and certain breast cancers are fairly aggressive, it’s possible that a policyholder may get sick again, despite previous remission.  However, the majority of dread disease products still offer a single lump-sum pay-out to fund the additional expense needs that may arise because of a severe illness like breast cancer. For some clients, the lump-sum may provide adequate coverage of the expenses they face. However, for some clients, the lump-sum for initial immediate expenses may need to be supplemented by a recurring pay-out for regular and ongoing expenses that are not catered for by the client’s income protection and medical scheme benefits.

For more information, contact me on  083 270 9284 or email me at

Max Menzies

Your Financial Planner – Cape Town –


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