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Breast cancer: Understanding the financial impact and how to protect yourself

26 October 2023 Clyde Parsons, Chief Innovation Officer at BrightRock
Clyde Parsons

Clyde Parsons

Every year in October, health professionals, government and NGOs work together to raise awareness of breast cancer, its prevention and risk factors.

What we sometimes overlook, though, is the financial impact of breast cancer and the financial steps women can take to protect themselves against the costs of a breast cancer diagnosis.

Some statistics
Besides non-malignant melanoma, breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in South Africa. According to statistics quoted on CANSA’s website, the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is one in 27 for South African women. With over 19 million women over the age of 15 in our country, this means that there are many living with the risk of developing breast cancer at some time in their lives. [1]

What you can do to reduce your risk of a breast cancer diagnosis
The most common factors that place women at increased risk of developing breast cancer, include lifestyle choices, family history, and age. Some of these include:

- Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and healthy grains
- Being physically active – just 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, cycling five days a week can reduce your risk
- Not smoking and limiting alcohol
- Breastfeeding – research suggests that mothers who breastfeed may be able to reduce their breast cancer risk
- Regular screening checks – this includes regular self-examination as well as going for regular mammograms and clinical breast exams to detect cancer early, when it’s most treatable.

The costs of a breast cancer diagnosis
The cost of breast cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and aggression of the cancer. Treatment could include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Breast cancer treatment is included in the Prescribed Minimum Benefits that medical schemes must cover, but there are some costs that may not be covered or only covered in part. There may also be additional lifestyle expenses not covered by medical aid. Life insurance can help you pay for additional expenses that may arise from cancer treatment.

What to ask your financial adviser about cover for breast cancer
It’s important to talk to your financial planner to ensure that you have the right coverage in place to help you afford and manage the potential financial impact of a breast cancer diagnosis. Your medical aid cover can fund healthcare costs, while disability and income protection cover can protect your income if you’re unable to work either temporarily or permanently because of breast cancer. Critical illness cover is also of the utmost importance. Be sure to speak to your financial adviser about these four key points when it comes to your critical illness cover for breast cancer:

- Additional expenses: Dread disease or critical illness cover in most life insurance policies can cover unforeseen additional expenses that may result because of serious diseases like cancer costs.
- Standalone cover: Many providers will reduce your cover for death or disability when you are paid out for a critical illness benefit, which cancer falls under. Standalone cover for additional expenses mitigates this risk.
- Cover for preventive surgery or early detection: 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.
- Cover for progressions and multiple claims: The majority of dread disease products still offer only one lump-sum pay-out to fund additional expenses. Depending on your diagnosis and prognosis, this lump-sum for initial immediate expenses may need to be supplemented by a recurring pay-out for regular and ongoing expenses.

It is also important to have death cover in place to provide for funeral expenses and provide for your family in the case of a terminal diagnosis.

Your adviser can help you tailor a solution suited to your needs
The thought of breast cancer can be scary, but it is important to stay informed about prevention, treatment, costs, and insurance options that can ensure you’re prepared for most eventualities. Your financial adviser can help you find a solution that’s suited to your needs.

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