Does cancer insurance cover cancer recurrence?


Does cancer insurance cover cancer recurrence?

Fighting cancer is a long and difficult journey. In addition to time, perseverance, and physical strength, it also requires financial support. If unfortunately faced with cancer recurrence, the required expenses can be even more substantial. Let Bowtie break down the causes, symptoms, and treatments of cancer recurrence while analyzing whether insurance can provide coverage in this regard.

What is cancer recurrence?

Cancer recurrence refers to the reappearance of cancer cells or residual cancer cells in the organ or site where cancer cells were originally present or treated. Tumors may reappear at the original location or in other parts of the body and are also known as cancer recurrence.

What is the rate of cancer recurrence in Hong Kong, and which types of cancer are more likely to recur?

The chance of cancer recurrence after treatment depends on various factors such as the type of cancer, stage, and treatment method, with a higher risk of recurrence for advanced-stage patients.

Of the recurrent cases, Glioblastoma, a common but highly aggressive brain cancer, has the highest recurrence rate. Since medical technology cannot completely remove or eliminate the tumor, almost 100% of patients will experience recurrence after treatment.

Lung cancer is the no.1 most common cancer in Hong Kong and the leading cause of cancer deaths. It has the highest fatality rate, and most cases of recurrence occur within five years of diagnosis. About 33% of non-small cell lung cancer patients experience recurrence after treatment, while 63% of stage III patients have a chance of recurrence. Small cell lung cancer, due to its rapid spread, usually recurs within one to two years after treatment, and cancer cells are more likely to spread to other organs.

Colorectal cancer, the second most common cancer, has a recurrence rate of over 50% even after proper surgical removal of the tumor.

Ovarian cancer, the sixth leading cause of death, has a recurrence rate of about 70%.

Other common cancer recurrence rates are as follows:

  • Bladder cancer: 50%
  • Breast cancer: 30%
  • Lymphoma: 10-75%
  • Kidney cancer: 13-49%
  • Leukemia: 9-19%
  • Prostate cancer: 24-48%

Reasons for Cancer Recurrence

After undergoing cancer treatment, doctors may inform patients that their cancer has been controlled or even cured. However, in reality, some types of cancer may still have a chance of recurrence even after surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. The reasons for this include:

  1. The tumor is not completely removed during surgery:
    Before surgery, doctors perform a series of imaging tests to confirm the location and size of the tumor. However, in some cases, the tumor may be too small or scattered, making it difficult for the doctor to locate and remove all malignant tumors during surgery.
  2. Development of drug resistance in cancer cells
    Similar to antibiotics, cancer cells can also develop resistance to chemotherapy drugs. Although chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy can kill most cancer cells, a small number of residual cells may survive, leading to cancer recurrence later on.

Different types of cancer recurrence

Cancer recurrence can be classified into three types based on their severity, including local recurrence, regional recurrence, and distant recurrence:

  1. Local recurrence
    Cancer cells reappear in the same area or organ as the primary cancer.
  2. Regional recurrence
    Cancer cells reappear in the lymph nodes near the primary cancer site or organ
  3. Distant recurrence:
    Cancer cells reappear in a different location or organ from the primary cancer site or organ and are generally further away, such as the brain, lungs, bones, or liver.

Are there any signs or symptoms of cancer recurrence?

Cancer recurrence can be very discouraging, but if we can detect any warning signs or symptoms early on, we can seek medical attention as soon as possible once the cancer reappears. The symptoms of recurrence vary depending on the type of cancer:

  1. Local recurrence
    The previous cancer symptoms reappear, and new growths may appear in the original cancer site, such as lumps in the breast or changes in the skin near the breast.
  2. Regional recurrence
    Due to the appearance of cancer cells in the lymph nodes, new growths appear in the lymph nodes near the original cancer site, such as the collarbone, neck, or armpit.
  3. Distant recurrence
    One or more distant organs or sites may show symptoms. If cancer cells reappear in the lungs, symptoms include coughing, bloody sputum, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath. 

If the cancer recurs in the brain, symptoms may include seizures or headaches. In addition, common warning signs of distant recurrence also include persistent, new, or unexplained pain such as bone pain, unexplained weight loss, fever, and unexplained bruises on the body.

How is cancer recurrence diagnosed?

After successfully treating primary cancer, doctors usually arrange a series of follow-up tests to monitor whether cancer cells reappear. Follow-up visits are usually scheduled every three to four months within the first two to three years after treatment and then reduced to once or twice a year when the condition is stable. 

Common tests include cancer markers in blood tests, X-rays, CT Scans, MRI, and PET-CT scans. If a patient experiences symptoms of cancer recurrence or if the doctor has any suspicions, a biopsy may be recommended for further diagnosis.

Can cancer recurrence be treated?

The prognosis for cancer recurrence is generally less favorable, and the cure and survival rates are also lower. Therefore, the treatment plan generally focuses on improving the patient’s quality of life and relieving symptoms. The treatment method varies depending on the size, extent, and location of the tumor. 

In addition, the patient’s personal preference is the primary consideration in choosing a treatment plan. Medical professionals, including doctors and nurses, will discuss with the patient and their family or friends to provide professional advice. 

After a risk assessment, and a detailed explanation of the effectiveness and side effects of the treatment, the best decision for the patient will be made. 

Treatment options generally include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, biological therapy, or combination therapy. If conventional treatments fail to cure cancer, some patients may choose alternative therapies to relieve symptoms:

  1. Supportive/Alternative therapy
    Common supportive therapies include meditation, visualization, relaxation, aromatherapy, or a combination of various therapies. The main effect is to reduce negative energy, help patients feel more positive, and assist patients and their caregivers in eliminating fear, pain, anxiety, and depression.
  1. Rehabilitation treatment
    The treatment details include personalized dietary counseling provided by nurses, psychological and social counseling, personalized physical counseling, and professional evaluation and treatment from physical therapists and occupational therapists, such as exercise or customized home facilities, to improve the patient’s quality of life after leaving the hospital.

The survival rates/death rates of cancer recurrence

It could be divided into one-year, five-year, and ten-year survival rates, which reflect the prognosis calculated after cancer treatment. 

Different cancer types and stages, the patient’s health status, and the treatment methods received can affect the survival rates. However, generally speaking, the survival rate for primary cancer is higher than that for cancer recurrence.

1. When does cancer recurrence occur after the initial diagnosis?

Cancer recurrence, which refers to the reappearance of cancer cells after treatment, depends on many different factors and can vary depending on the type of cancer.

Cancer recurrence can happen in weeks, months, or even years after the initial diagnosis, so cancer survivors need to undergo regular follow-up exams to monitor their condition.

2. What should be done after discovering cancer recurrence?

Dealing with the initial cancer diagnosis is already difficult, and the feelings of despair, fear, and stress can be unimaginable. If cancer recurrence occurs, the feelings of helplessness and powerlessness will be multiplied. After receiving the bad news, patients should make appropriate preparations with the support of their family and friends in case the worst happens.

Emotional Preparation

Everyone’s emotions and thoughts are different, and patients can openly 

express their feelings to family, friends, or even professionals such as clinical psychologists or social workers. 

Sharing can help relieve stress and help those around you understand your needs and provide appropriate assistance. Regardless of whether the patient needs to be hospitalized or not, it is recommended that family and friends take turns to accompany them. 

As crying can help express feelings, patients do not need to pretend to be strong. In the final stages, the patient’s emotions may fluctuate greatly, and family and friends should be understanding and use body language such as hugs as comfort.

Insurance Preparation

Some cancer patients, in order to buy time, may arrange some tests in private institutions in addition to seeking medical treatment, follow-up, and treatment in public hospitals. Before admission or arranging any tests, it is recommended that patients or their families inquire with the insurance company about the scope of policy coverage to avoid unnecessary financial burdens and add to the stress.

Will Preparation

Traditional culture generally avoids making a will while alive, but if a will can be prepared while clear-minded, it can ensure that the distribution of assets is in accordance with your wishes and can reduce disputes and stress for your loved ones after you pass away. 

In fact, with the help of a lawyer, making a will is not necessarily as difficult as imagined. Even if a will has already been made, the content can be modified at any time by adding a “codicil,” and additional clauses can be added or removed according to your wishes. Before drafting a codicil, it is helpful to list out the changes you want to make and discuss the details of the modifications with the lawyer.

3. How to prevent/ reduce cancer recurrence?
  1. To prevent cancer recurrence, we should start by improving our daily habits:
  1. Maintain a balanced diet, eat more vegetables, fruits, and high-quality proteins such as fish or white meat, nuts, and whole grains, and reduce intake of red meat such as beef.
  2. Maintain a positive mindset and avoid excessive stress.
  3. Quit smoking and alcohol.
  4. Reduce salt intake and avoid processed foods.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight and avoid central obesity.
  6. Do moderate exercise every day.

What insurance products does Bowtie offer to cover cancer recurrence?

Cancer treatment expenses can be enormous, and Bowtie offers two types of insurance that can provide full coverage* for cancer recurrence from diagnosis to treatment costs.

  1. Bowtie Pink VHIS: It offers full coverage* for all costs related to cancer diagnosis and treatment on a reimbursement basis, up to the lifetime benefit limit.
  2. Bowtie Cancer Fighter: It offers full coverage^ for all costs related to the diagnosis and treatment of insured cancers, from diagnosis to treatment, up to the lifetime benefit limit, on a reimbursement basis.
  • *Bowtie Pink VHIS provides full coverage for eligible medical expenses, including diagnosis, hospitalization, surgery, and non-surgical cancer treatments, except in the United States. Coverage is subject to annual and lifetime benefit limits. If the claim involves hospitals in mainland China that are not on the designated hospital list, high-end hospitals, hospital rooms with a level higher than the designated level, or pre-existing conditions before enrollment, the compensation amount may be adjusted.
  • ^Full coverage is subject to the lifetime benefit limit, which is HK$1 million for Cancer Fighter 100 and HK$2 million/HK$3 million for Cancer Fighter 200/300.

Coverage for cancer recurrence in Bowtie Pink and Bowtie Cancer Fighter

Both insurance policies provide full coverage*^ for the diagnosis and treatment costs that insured persons must undergo due to cancer recurrence.

The table below outlines the basic coverage items. For complete coverage details and benefit limits for Bowtie Pink and Bowtie Cancer Fighter, please refer to the product pages.

Coverage for cancer recurrence diagnosis expenses:

ProductBowtie Pink (Semi-Private)Bowtie Pink (Private)Bowtie VHIS Flexi + Cancer fighter
Prescribed diagnostic imaging testsFull Coverage*Full Coverage^ (if diagnosed with Cancer under protection of the policy)
Benefit LimitAnnual benefit limit: HK$10m

Lifetime benefit limit: HK$50m

Annual benefit limit: HK$20m

Lifetime benefit limit: HK$80m

Bowtie VHIS Flexi – annual benefit limit from HK$500k – 1m without lifetime benefit limit

Bowtie Fighter – annual benefit limit from HK$1m – 3m

Costs related to the treatment of cancer recurrence (including surgical and non-surgical treatments).

ProductBowtie PinkBowtie Cancer Fighter
Room & BoardFull Coverage*Full Coverage^
Attending Doctor’s Visit
Specialist 3
Operating theatre charges
Active TreatmentFull Coverage*

Including Prescribed non-surgical cancer treatments

Full Coverage^

Include but not limited to Radiotherapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy.

Benefit LimitSemi-Private:

  • Annual benefit limit : HK$10m*
  • Lifetime benefit limit: HK$50m


  • Annual benefit limit : HK$20m*
  • Lifetime benefit limit: HK$80m
HK$1m – 3m (depend on which level of plans you get insured^#)
  • 1Including but not limited to laboratory tests, radiological tests (X-rays, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, PET Scan), fine needle aspiration, or excisional biopsy (histopathology).
  • 2Including CT Scan, MRI Scan, PET Scan/PET-CT combination, and PET-MRI combination.
  • 3The company reserves the right to request supporting documents for the written advice, such as referral letters or statements provided by the attending physician or registered medical practitioner in the claim application form.
  • *Bowtie Pink VHIS provides full coverage for eligible medical expenses, including diagnosis, hospitalization, surgery, and non-surgical cancer treatments, except in the United States. Coverage is subject to annual and lifetime benefit limits. If the claim involves hospitals in mainland China that are not on the designated hospital list, high-end hospitals, hospital rooms with a level higher than the designated level, or pre-existing conditions before enrollment, the compensation amount may be adjusted.
  • ^Full coverage is subject to the lifetime benefit limit, which is HK$1 million for Cancer Fighter 100 and HK$2 million/HK$3 million for Cancer Fighter 200/300.
  • #Cancer Fighter 200 and Cancer Fighter 300 take into account the risk of cancer recurrence and the diagnosis of other cancers. The benefit limit of HK$1 million will be reset every 3 years after the first activation until the compensation reaches the lifetime benefit limit (HK$100 million is sufficient to cover the cost of cancer treatment for 3 years).

Difference between Bowtie Pink & Cancer Fighter

ProductBowtie PinkBowtie Cancer Fighter
Benefit LimitBiggerSmaller
CharacteristicWith deductibles from HK$0 to HK$80kNo deductibles
CoverageEverything except exclusionsAll Cancers
Suggested WardsSemi-Private/ Private

(depends on which plan you are insured)

Semi-Private or lower

(the claim ratio will be adjusted if stay in private room or above)

Learn MoreLearn More

How much are Bowtie Pink & Cancer Fighter?

ProductBowtie Pink (Semi-Private4)Bowtie Cancer Fighter
DeductiblesHK$0HK20kHK$50kHK$80kNot available
Male – Monthly Premium5HK$728HK$393HK$299HK$257HK$57
Female – Monthly Premium5HK$94
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