Cancer Survivors Day: assessing the true impact of cancer

Cancer Survivors Day: assessing the true impact of cancer
All of us will be touched by cancer at some point in our lives, whether we have lost a loved one, know someone who has it, or are diagnosed with the disease ourselves.

One in two of us will develop cancer during our lifetime, but although a diagnosis can be devastating, our chances of surviving cancer are improving all the time. According to latest data from Cancer Research, the cancer survival rate in the UK has more than doubled from 24% to 50% in the last 40 years, thanks to research and new treatments, as well as screening programmes and increased awareness of how to prevent or catch the disease early.

Cancer Survivors Day, which takes place this year on 6th June, aims to raise awareness of the impact cancer can have on people’s lives, and to recognise and celebrate those who have battled this awful disease.

Survivors often have lasting effects from their illness, which can impact on them and their families in numerous ways, either in terms of ongoing physical side effects of the cancer or from the treatment or from the fear and anxiety over future health and the potential of recurrence. It can also have long term impacts on finances too.

Here, we look at some of these effects in more detail and explore what help may be available.

Consequences of cancer

Surviving cancer doesn’t usually mean you can simply pick up and carry on with your life exactly as it was before you were diagnosed. There may be longer term emotional, practical and physical needs that need to be addressed, all of which can add extra financial pressures, especially for those who are left unable to work.

The increase in survival rates for cancer and other serious illnesses means that the traditional reliance on life cover for family protection may not be enough. As more people survive, or survive for longer, the point at which they need financial support can be much earlier than the point at which a life insurance plan would pay.

According to a report from the charity Macmillan Cancer Support in 2019, 39% of people with cancer have had to use up savings, borrow or sell assets to cover costs or loss of income resulting from their diagnosis , whilst four out of five people said they were on average £570 worse off a month as a result of their diagnosis.

Easing the financial strain and other effects

Critical illness insurance is designed to provide you with financial protection if you’re unable to work due to a serious illness, such as cancer. Policies pay out a tax-free lump sum if you’re diagnosed with one of the illnesses specified on the policy, with most typically covering between 30 and 40 conditions.

Many critical illness policies pay as soon as you’re diagnosed, which can make the world of difference to the whole experience of cancer by removing financial worries, allowing the patient and their families to concentrate on their treatment. Some even pay out a small non-refundable lump sum whilst a cancer claim is assessed, thereby alleviating some of the financial stress early on.

Critical illness insurance doesn’t only provide financial support. Policies often come with additional benefits which can help cancer survivors deal with some of the other long-term effects of cancer too, such as fear of recurrence, guilt, anger, depression and anxiety. These benefits can also be hugely helpful to those who have only just received a cancer diagnosis, or who are undergoing treatment.

Some policies, for example, have links with charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support or Maggie’s who can provide practical and medical support. Others offer expert second medical opinion to provide confidence and reassurance on treatment plans, as well as services like counselling and mental health support both for the policyholder and their family. For example, AIG’s Smart Health benefit for critical illness policyholders provides unlimited access to online, telephone and video GP appointments as well as a range of health and wellbeing services at no additional cost. These services are available to the policyholder’s partner and any children up to the age of 21.

Scottish Widows earlier this year reported 310 policyholder referrals to Macmillan Cancer Support in 2020, generating at extra £181,225 in extra benefits for customer. They have also seen a 60% increase in the use of RedArc services (specialist nursing support) from 2019 to 2020. Royal London, Aegon and L&G also offer access to RedArc nurses, who can provide unlimited time over the phone to cancer patients and their families.

Aviva, meanwhile, offers a Digicare plus app to its critical illness and life insurance policyholders, which connects them with clinicians, nutritionists, therapists and offers services including mental health support and can provide a second medical opinion on your diagnosis and treatment plan if you want one. Similarly, Guardian’s Halo service can provide a face-to-face second medical opinion, return-to-work support, nursing support following diagnosis and treatment, and estate planning if your illness is terminal.

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