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Breast cancer: managing the unthinkable

02 November 2018Momentum Life

Due to widely published content regarding cancer and the impact thereof, the awareness of this silent killer is rapidly increasing. Not only are people becoming more aware of the prevalence of cancer but they also start to realise that early detection of the disease has a powerful impact on the prognosis.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women in South Africa and this is highlighted by statistics telling us that one in eight women will develop breast cancer during their lifetimes. Jenny Ingram, Head of Product Development for Individual Life Insurance at Momentum says that “This is very much in line with our claim statistics indicating that since 2010, the majority of annual cancer claims submitted by women was specifically for breast cancer.”

However, statistics also tells us that with the phenomenal advances in the medical field, Stage 1 breast cancer has an 88 per cent chance of cure and even the treatments of advanced stages of breast cancer have improved dramatically.

The future of breast cancer treatments
The personalisation of breast cancer care is a major factor in improving outcomes. More and more, care of women with breast cancer is being improved by tailoring treatment to the molecular characteristics of individual tumours, as well as to the size and spread of the cancer.

There are a number of phenomenal breakthroughs in the treatment of breast cancer but one treatment that is gaining ground is the ‘DNA barcoding of tumours’ where doctors would send a sample of a tumour for sequencing and use the results for personalised treatment.

Scientists from Cambridge University indicate that this approach will help doctors identify the best possible treatment for a patient, predict if patients will suffer side-effects from treatments as well as the severity of the side-effects and be able to detect whether a patient is becoming resistant to a specific treatment.

Prof Richard Gilbertson from Cambridge University stated in a recent press release that "By sequencing the entire tumour genome of women with breast cancer and integrating this extensive data with other biological and clinical observations, we will assign patients to optimal therapy, changing the way we treat breast cancer forever.”

Scientists have already identified approximately 10 different types of breast cancer and each of these respond differently to available treatments. However, they are constantly looking at ways to refine predictions and outcomes of personalised treatments and DNA sequencing will accelerate progress in developing personalised treatments.

Counting the cost
According to a recent report, published in The Lancet medical journal, the number of women being diagnosed with breast cancer, on a global scale, could almost double to 3.2 million annually by 2030 from 1.7 million during 2015. These are alarming statistics and the perfect reason to secure comprehensive critical illness cover.
The National Cancer Registry (NCR) states that 100 000 South Africans are diagnosed with cancer every year but one in four citizens are affected by cancer in some way. Costs associated with this long-term disease could include numerous consultancies with specialists, surgery costs, staging and diagnostic interventions according to a South African Medical Journal report, published in 2016. This leaves many cancer patients in financial difficulty because medical aids are not able to cover many of the costs associated with cancer treatments and medication.

The report stresses the high price tag of new generation immunotherapy drugs such as Ipilimumab, which helps the body’s immune system to identify and destroy cancer cells, with an estimated cost of R1 million while an older drug like Trastuzumab costs R25 000 per treatment. If a mastectomy is combined with the Trastuzumab drug, the estimated cost could be in excess of R500 000. Looking at radiation therapy, the cost can vary between R51 000 and R112 000 for five to six weeks of treatment and a four to six-week cycle of chemotherapy could cost between R25 000 and R140 000; another reason why it is vital to have comprehensive critical illness cover in place.

When comprehensive cover and affordability are combined
Jenny emphasises, “In our experience, there are two things that clients are looking for when it comes to critical illness cover, namely access to the most comprehensive cover and an affordable price tag. Momentum Myriad places great emphasis on comprehensive critical illness cover. Our Complete Critical Illness Benefit provides both tiered pay-out options and an option that pays 100% earlier on with both options covering the same events for instance breast cancer.”

Selecting the Complete Critical Illness Benefit with the tiered pay-outs ensures that higher cover amounts are more affordable, while ensuring that the financial needs of clients are met as they arise; paying out a smaller percentage on diagnosis of lower severity events for example early stages of breast cancer and more if and when the event progresses.

By selecting the Complete Enhanced Critical Illness Benefit that pays out 100% earlier on provides higher payments that are especially useful if clients do not have medical aid or cash to pay for some of the earlier expenses associated with critical illnesses.”

Jenny continues by saying, “Insurance companies are regularly updating their critical illness benefits in line with medical and technological advances and to ensure that changing client needs are constantly met. Unfortunately, neither clients nor financial advisers are always able to make accurate assessments of which benefits are most up to date and the most comprehensive.”

Momentum Myriad settled the argument of which critical illness benefits offer the most comprehensive cover when we introduced our Breadth of Cover Guarantee™. This world-first innovative feature guarantees cover for any critical illness condition covered by the critical illness benefits of other local insurers. Our Breadth of Cover Guarantee leaves nothing to chance, giving clients complete peace of mind that they will receive a pay-out if they contract a qualifying critical illness. This makes the inherent uncertainty of critical illness conditions much more manageable and increases the likelihood of qualifying for a claim linked to the most comprehensive critical illness solutions in the market.”

Adjusting our mind-set
As with many other diseases, rapid advances on the medical and technological front makes it possible to treat and cure previously ‘life-threatening’ diseases and breast cancer is no exception.

We have seen the treatments for breast cancer evolve from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to a highly sophisticated personalised approach that aims to target the characteristics of each tumour and get the best possible outcome for each individual. But this can only happen if clients have access to cutting-edge treatments. Affordable, comprehensive critical illness cover should therefore be a non-negotiable for clients.”

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