In what it says is a first among U.S. life insurers, the Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. is offering life insurance at standard rates to many women over 40 who have had early-stage breast cancer.

Women who have ever had breast cancer normally have to pay much higher premiums than other women, if they could get any life insurance at all, company executives note.

The Hartford decided to make the move after significant strides in detecting and treating breast cancer in recent decades, leading to a reduced rate of recurrence of the disease, according to the executives.

Under The Hartford’s new underwriting guidelines, the company will sell individual life insurance policies at standard rates to women who have been treated for so-called Stage 1 breast cancer and whose standard tests show strong prospects of survival.

Stage 1 breast cancer consists of small (1 centimeter or less), well-differentiated, localized tumors.

The Hartford says it will offer standard rates to breast cancer survivors who have no major health problems. Women ages 40 to 75 can purchase policies with a death benefit of up to $2.5 million and those ages 76 to 85 can buy policies valued at up to $1 million.

The company’s decision would lead to significant savings for women who have had the disease, points out Ann Hoven, chief medical officer for The Hartford.

“For example, a year ago if a woman at any age who had once had early-stage breast cancer were to apply for a $500,000 policy, her premium would have been $12,500 more than today,” Hoven says.

“We did some research and felt with improvements in breast cancer treatment, this was an opportunity to rethink what we had been doing,” she adds.

She cited National Cancer Institute studies showing the annual death rate for Stage 1 breast cancer declined by 20% since 1991.

“We expect this trend to continue,” she says. “And we will look at other areas where we can make improvements in our rates.”

She says the company will continue to watch survival rates for other illnesses, such as heart diseases and some other cancers, and reduce rates where appropriate.

The Hartford made its announcement Oct. 1, timing it to coincide with the first day of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Standard rates will be offered to many women over 40 who have had early-stage breast cancer, the company says

Key Points

? The National Cancer Institute estimates that, based on current rates, 13.2% of women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in their lives.

? Because rates of breast cancer increase with age, estimates of risk at specific ages are more meaningful than estimates of lifetime risk.

Source: National Cancer Institute