Category Life Insurance

The underwriter's dis-ease with disease: Brain tumours

27 May 2014 Dr Phillipa Peil, Medical Officer at Liberty
Dr Phillipa Peil

Dr Phillipa Peil

Headaches are a common occurrence for most of us, especially given our high-pressured, fast-paced lives. However, not much thought is given when we suffer one of these, other than us looking for that quick fix. We look for the closest pill we can take and we want it to provide the quickest relief, allowing us to get back to our daily grind. However, when a headache is coupled with nausea and vomiting this could be symptomatic of something far more dangerous – it could be a warning sign that you have a brain tumour.

A brain tumour occurs when abnormal cells collect in the brain. Currently there are approximately 130 different types of brain tumours known. According to the Medical Research Council, brain tumours and cancers have only accounted for a rare 1.3 percent of cancer related deaths in South Africa over the last 14 years.

Brain tumours are graded according to how quickly they are likely to grow. Higher grade tumours grow more aggressively and are referred to as malignant, or cancerous. Overall, one third of brain tumours fall into this category. The remaining two thirds are lower grade, slow-growing tumours and are regarded as benign.

Benign tumours (Non-threatening tumours)

It is important to note that even benign tumours can cause serious symptoms and be life-threatening. But in general, they can be left untreated if they are not causing harm or discomfort to the individual. In some instances a benign tumour can become malignant, but this is rare.

In most cases, a benign brain tumour is less likely to return once removed and is unlikely to spread to other parts of the brain or spinal cord.

Malignant tumours (Cancerous tumours)

A malignant tumour is one that invades surrounding tissues and is usually cancerous, grows relatively quickly, and will grow back even if completely removed. It requires both radio and chemo-therapy to prevent it from coming back again as it will spread to other parts of the brain and spinal cord.

Risk factors for developing brain cancer

No-one knows for sure what the exact cause of a brain tumour is. However, a malignant brain tumour may originate in the brain tissue, or when cancer cells formed in another part of the body may have spread to the brain. Reports show that there is however, a higher risk of developing brain cancer if there is a history of childhood cancers. Adults who have had leukaemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system) are also at an increased risk. Additional known risk factors for brain cancer include exposure to medical radiation to the head for purposes of radiotherapy, X-rays or CT scans.

Brain tumours are found in all age groups and occur slightly more commonly in males than females. There is also a peak in the case of brain tumours at 50 years and older.

Certain genetic conditions like Neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorder of the nervous system) and Turcot syndrome (growths on the inside of the gastro-intestinal tract and central nervous system) increase the risk of developing a brain tumour, and people who are HIV positive also have a higher risk of developing brain tumours.


The time period in which the symptoms of a brain tumour develop varies from weeks to months, but it may only take days for the situation to become serious. As part of the symptoms displayed, a person suffering from brain tumours normally develops intracranial pressure symptoms, such as headaches and/or vomiting.

The symptoms depend on where in the brain the tumour is located as different parts of the brain are responsible for different body functions and symptoms. Some examples of symptoms include:

  • Weakness of muscles in the face arms and legs
  • Loss of vision or blindness
  • Loss of hearing or deafness
  • Speech problems
  • Personality changes
  • Balance problems
  • Confusion
  • Seizures


The form of treatment for a brain tumour depends on a number of factors such as the type, grade and location of the tumour, with the aim of the treatment being to cure and control the growth of cancer cells.

There are two types of treatments for brain tumours; the first is a surgical treatment to remove the tumour completely, ensuring that there is no further brain tissue damage. The second is radiotherapy for malignant tumours that are difficult to remove or that were only partly removed before. Chemotherapy may be used in addition to the other treatments.


When dealing with brain tumours the underwriters will take a holistic view of the applicant's age, overall health, medical history and detailed information concerning the brain tumour.

The underwriting process will aim to establish the below facts:

  • Was the tumour malignant or benign?
  • What type of tumour was it?
  • Was it successfully treated?
  • Was it completely removed with no recurrence?
  • Have there been any persisting problems such as leg weakness or speech problems?
  • The date of the last treatment may also be taken into account, and the underwriter may also want to know what type of treatment the applicant has had, as there are risks associated with both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, for example the risk of future cancers.



The pay out for a claim will depend on the product the applicant is claiming under, for example critical illness or income protector, as well as the specific benefit wording on the critical illness cover.

Most large insurance companies will pay on a claim for brain cancer, as well as for a benign brain tumour causing symptoms, assuming that the claimant has the necessary policy in place. If the brain tumour is causing symptoms which affect the person's ability to do their job, this will also be considered under disability cover. Insurance definitions are being revised to include specific information concerning brain tumours.

Brain tumours can be a devastating disease for the patient and their family from both a medical and financial perspective. Policies across a wide range of products need to be emplaced without delay, as once this disease is discovered it can affect the person's ability to obtain cover.




Added by Armanda Lindeque, 16 Feb 2024
If a person gets a diagnose of terminal cancer after a month of dr saying he had a stroke after years of not even visiting a drs rooms. Cinsulting any drs until this death sentence and disability. Has a dissability cover but they say accudental but on asking they say only motoraccident dissability? It only states accidental dissability. Does this not qualify as accidental. This is surrly totaly accidental pick up of cancer after treatment for a stroke.
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