The cancer conversation insurers need to have

Cancer is a moving target for insurers. How can we be prepared?

Cancer – it's just six letters – but when strung together they stir a range of powerful emotions – from fear and denial to hope, bravery and determination.  While the word "cancer" may strike a different feeling in each of us, the point is that it strikes everywhere.  The total number of new cancer cases is expected to be 23 million in 2030. 

This year's World Cancer Day launched a campaign called #IAmAndIWill as a way to bring each one of us into the conversation – as people, caregivers, companies, family, researchers, fighters, heroes and the hopeful – everyone can have a part in the action to create a happier, healthier future and change that projection.

As head of Swiss Re's L&H Products, I use this call to think about the role of insurers and how we can make a difference. While insurance cannot in any way compensate for the suffering cancer inflicts, we can reduce the financial stress associated with fighting it, from the cost of treatment to necessary lifestyle changes.  We can also help smooth the road after recovery as survivors find their way back to work and a sense of normalcy.  As treatments continue to improve, more people are living with or recovering from cancer.  We therefore, have great opportunity to help design products to better support the one in three individuals touched by cancer in their lifetime. 

The options and the possibilities are endless, but cancer is also a moving target for life insurers and we have to be ready and able to keep up with the dynamic changes it presents. To date, we've operated more on the defensive side, but as we see more advances with precision oncology and prevention, we also have more opportunities to create better insurance solutions. 

To be sure, our products must be sustainable and able to deliver the protection they are designed for, which means we have to carefully monitor and predict potentially disruptive developments.  As new technologies emerge so do new risks in areas such as over-diagnosis and liquid biopsy.  Since the "war on cancer" was launched in 1971, the world has definitely won some battles, but not yet the war. 

Cancer creates an incredibly complex landscape for insurers and that's why it is and will remain a key topic for Swiss Re.  It has the potential to transform longevity and medicine, but it also creates a web of complex ethical issues in how this evolves. Here are just some of the themes we believe need to be part of the discussion among insurers:

  • How do we understand the limitations around new, emerging techniques to diagnose and treat cancer?
  • How do we translate these from basic science to clinical value?
  • What are the threats to an insurer's portfolio such as asymmetric information?
  • How realistic is the promise of mortality improvement as new prevention and personalized treatments emerge?

You'll hear more from Swiss Re over the coming months on these topics.

I'll leave you with my personal commitment to #IAmAndIWill - Keep the topic of cancer front and center at Swiss Re. We continue to press for answers to those tough questions, so the world of insurance can continue making the world of cancer survivors better.