New research by the Independent Clinical Oncology Network (ICON) reports that four out of five South African women working in the private sector who are diagnosed with breast cancer are likely to survive the disease, due to access to medical aid. Senior Legal Manager at Old Mutual, Soré Cloete, explains that while continued medical advances and increased breast cancer awareness has resulted in more women being able to identify and successfully treat the disease, the overall financial impact on patients and their families can be sizeable.

A cancer diagnosis comes with a range of additional expenses that can be mitigated with sound income protection and risk cover. When a mother or carer is diagnosed with cancer, it causes considerable distress – particularly in teenagers and young adults – even inhibiting many of them from reaching financial independence. This is backed up by a recent study of 255 young Australians between the ages of 12 and 24 years, suggesting that the diagnosis of a caregiver disrupts the normal transition of young people into self-sufficient adults.

This body of research suggests that, apart from the emotional and psychological impact of dealing with the possible loss of a parent, children often take on an over-extended sense of responsibility, causing many to delay moving out of home, or seeking full-time employment, ultimately impacting their transition to adulthood. The reality is that developing a disease like breast cancer has far-ranging financial implications.

The loss of a mother’s income can severely undermine a family’s ability to maintain its standard of living, particularly if the mother is the sole breadwinner.

According to the Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor, one in two mothers in South Africa describe themselves as single parents. Compounding this problem, only 12% of these receive regular financial support from the father of their children. While a comprehensive medical aid plan will cover the cost of care associated with the diagnosis, treatment and recovery of breast or cervical cancer, there will always be additional, unexpected and indirect costs that even the best medical aid plan won’t cover.

The hidden costs of cancer could include additional home care or maintaining child-related fees such as college or university tuition. At the same time, because of the demands of a treatment schedule, cancer patients may need to work less, which could potentially result in lower earnings.

Old Mutual’s claim statistics for 2015 further support the necessity to have severe illness cover in place: 34% of cancer claims were for breast cancer – the highest of all cancer claims – and overall 49% of all severe illness claims were cancer related.

I believe income protection and risk cover should be the cornerstone of every financial plan. For women, battling a disease such as breast cancer is hard enough without worrying about co-payments, personal finances and other day-to-day expenses. Income protection will ensure that a patient is never in a financial position that impacts on her family’s wellbeing and financial goals.

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