Conversation: a new cancer prescription

01 October 2013 Schalk Malan, BrightRock

Cancer has always been with us. Its history is written in bone and tissue, in the fossilised and mummified remains of animals and people who lived millennia ago. And in ancient manuscripts, whose authors warned that there is no cure.

The Ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, was the first to give cancer the name by which we know it. He wrote of crab shaped tumours, carcinoma, a description that persists in our cancer vocabulary today. Later, Roman physician Celsus translated the term in Latin.

Educating the nation

While the intervening centuries have revolutionised clinicians’ understanding of cancer’s causes and how to treat it, they haven’t erased the fear and ignorance around it. Despite medical advances to the contrary, a global cancer research study found that a third of consumers believe cancer to be a death sentence.

This same fear and ignorance prevents people from preparing for its financial impact, despite its high prevalence rates. In South Africa, one in every four men and one in every six women will be diagnosed with cancer.

That is why advocacy group Campaigning for Cancer and BrightRock are partnering to do something quite different: to talk about cancer to the public and to each other. In a society steeped in silence on the matter, Campaigning for Cancer’s mission is to give voice to the needs and concerns of cancer patients.

The initiative, called ‘Insuring against the cost of cancer’, has two main objectives: to help consumers navigate their way to reliable information and advice on coverage for cancer, and to facilitate discussion with the medical scheme providers and insurance companies who provide this coverage.

Clear message to the market

Campaigning for Cancer’s message is clear: cancer, while a leading cause of death, is no longer an automatic death sentence.

Through the project, it hopes to encourage South Africans to proactively research insurance benefits and their rules. It also wants insurers to consider the needs of clients affected by cancer in their product development, and seek better ways to accommodate the long-term survival of cancer patients.

The benefits to the industry of such an education drive should be clear. If cancer is a taboo subject, life insurance is even more so. A recent US survey found that most parents feel more comfortable talking to their children about sex and drugs than about life insurance. Clients, advisers and insurers all stand to gain if consumers are better informed about the cancer related products available in the market, and how they work.

Too often, clients wait until it is too late, either to buy cover, or to understand how their purchase actually works. The results of this lack of knowledge and action range from cover exclusions and non-disclosure to claim rejections, unmet expectations and despair. The Cost of Cancer website ( provides an invaluable and consumer friendly information resource on cancer and the different types of cover available for cancer, which can support you, the financial adviser, in your advice and client education task.

In our view, if the insurance industry is to live up to its growing commitment to fairness and consumer centricity, it needs to better understand the cancer patient’s concerns and experience. In launching the Cost of Cancer project, BrightRock and Campaigning for Cancer have made a public commitment to engage with each other about cancer, its impact on people and how it is funded.

In doing so, we hope to promote greater transparency and new insights to benefit the industry. Insights that may potentially influence future product design and eventually help write a positive new chapter in cancer’s history.

- History of cancer: the American Cancer Society –
- PACE Cancer Perception Index –
- "Drugs trump life insurance in parent-child conversations” –
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