This page is about something that is almost non-existent, though many people are concerned about: insurance protection, specifically against adverse financial consequences of cancer. The good news is that although this kind of cancer insurance is available only for women, and only from a single company in Ontario (Canada),
critical illness insurance always includes cancer as one of the covered conditions, beside heart attack, stroke, and a host of other dreaded, life threatening diseases and conditions, coming from illness or accident / injury.

Distinguishing cancer among the covered conditions of critical illness insurance policies is supported by dire statistics. Despite medical advances on many fronts, cancer has become the Number 1 public health enemy in the last decades. This double-faced situation is reflected in the cover story of a recent issue of the Fortune magazine, titled 'Why We're Loosing the War on Cancer (and How to Win it)'. It reminds us that, in the US, cancer is the biggest killer under age 75. Among those aged 45 to 64, cancer deaths are more numerous than the next three causes (heart disease, accidents, and stroke) combined. It is the leading killer even among children. While, in the last half century, age-adjusted death rates for heart disease and stroke have been slashed by 59% and 69%, respectively, the percentage of Americans dying from cancer is about the same as it was 50 or 30 years ago.

In case of only a few of the hundreds of variants of cancer have we achieved a dramatic increase in the longevity of cancer patients. With the more common forms of cancer, however, the longevity gain after diagnosis can be measured in a few months only. In the early 70s, half of US cancer patients survived five years or more after diagnosis; by now, that rate has increased to about 63%. The improvement with any of the four major kinds of cancer (lung, colon and rectal, breast, and prostate) came about in cases where there had not been a metastasis, which is the spread of malignant cells to other organs; for patients with distant metastasis, however, there has been hardly any gain in post-diagnosis longevity. In other words, time - early diagnosis and treatment - is a big factor, and not just in a psychological sense.

The use of 'not just' is probably quite incorrect in the last sentence, for two reasons. First, the emotional pain cancer causes for patients and families shouldn't be belittled. Second, there seems to be an emerging paradigm shift in medicine from the old, more mechanistic and deterministic approach toward a fuller acceptance that our bodily and mental / emotional / psychological health is an indivisible, coherent one. How we feel and think have direct effects on our physical health, and not only vice versa.

It seems plausible to explain the skyrocketing cancer incidence rates (for details, and Canadian statistics, click
here) by changes (increasing deterioration and stress) in both our physical / natural, and social environments. There is ample evidence to support this view, still, it can be debated, ... one can argue for them being balanced out by other obvious (positive) changes. There is not place for much debate, however, about the costs of fighting cancer: it has been unmistakably increasing at a fast pace. In the US, $64 bn a year is spent on cancer treatment, and an additional $14.4 bn on research. However, the research is fragmented, mis-targeted, and narrowly focused. There has been a huge accumulation of knowledge, much of which has not been proved to be very important in terms of significant progress against cancer. It shows the deficiency of the whole research effort that while 90% of time it is the process of metastasis, not the localized versions of tumors that kill people, still, the overwhelming majority of efforts totally disregards metastasis. The same is true about prevention: While it is clear that this is the stage where the best results can be achieved, it is neglected by research.

There are new anticancer 'wonder drugs' approved one after the other, but they have not brought about any big breakthrough. They are, at most, marginally more effective than standard treatments. At the same time, they have been several times more expensive than old drugs. Early detection and treatment by a combination of several of these narrowly focused new drugs seem to be more potent, but they are not going to be inexpensive. As an indication of how shockingly the sometimes astronomical costs of cancer treatment can effect us, it’s enough to refer to the (now a few years old) estimate of the Canadian Cancer Society. According to it, about two thirds of those costs are not covered by provincial health plans.

Clearly, there are challenges for society, governments, researchers, drug companies, and medical personnel, related to the war on cancer, but there are challenges at the level of individuals as well. If one lives a healthier, more balanced, less stressful, active life, then the chance for getting sick by cancer is very likely lower. A strong immune system can more likely keep cancer attacks under control, ... and if cancer still happens, critical illness insurance can help to stay in control, financially at least.

There appears to be one more lesson, relevant here, from the analysis of how (in)effective cancer research has been so far. The referred Fortune article, among the reasons for the slow progress in cancer research, enlists lack of cooperation, and clear definition and selection of broad aims, disregard of processes and the organism as a whole, as well as the consequent fragmented efforts. The writer found flawed models and obsession with tumor shrinkage, e.g., ... a narrow, measurable, but ultimately false target to aim for, at the expense of 'big picture' thinking that would deal with the whole process and the whole organism. I cannot help seeing a parallel to dealing with personal financial planning and management issues here. For example, many people are obsessed with avoiding probate fees, or paying lower insurance premiums, or any other narrow objectives that are (or at least seem to be) correct ones in their own; however, if one considers the whole picture, the interrelationships with other aspects (both financial and non-financial), the costs and benefits, etc., the assessment might change.
 

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