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Advertisements for supplemental cancer insurance are scary. "You have a one in three chance of getting cancer in your lifetime. The cost of cancer treatment could wipe out your savings and devastate your family."

Though the statistics may be technically valid, don't rely on them to make your decision about buying cancer insurance. The most common type of cancer (skin cancer) can usually be treated easily and usually isn't covered by cancer insurance in the first place. If you smoke, your coverage under most of these policies is limited or excludes lung cancer.Few people would consider buying health insurance that provides coverage only if they are hit by a car, but this is exactly what cancer insurance is - a single disaster coverage. Sometimes called "dreaded disease" coverage, cancer and heart disease insurance plans began proliferating in the late '70s and early '80s, according to Dr. Jean Lown, consumer specialist in the Utah State University College of Family Life. At one time eight states banned the sales of cancer insurance partially due to high-pressure sales tactics. Now only New Jersey bans its sale.

Lown says you should ask yourself, "Am I already adequately covered by a comprehensive health-care plan?" If not, you should shop for that insurance first. If you are insured, you might consider putting the extra money into more coverage or a lower deductible on your current coverage if you are concerned about the possibility of cancer. Increased disability coverage is another option that should take priority over cancer insurance.

Although we don't like to think about it, Lown says the loss of our ability to work could be more financially devastating to our families than our death. It would cause not only the loss of income but the possible extra burden of medical bills. Most people are aware of their life insurance coverage, but few are certain of their coverage in the event of disability.

Lown says health coverage should be part of an overall financial plan that balances risks and certainties. For instance, although you have a chance of getting cancer, it is almost a certainty that your children will need money for college and that you will need money for retirement. If you have extra money to spend, it might be more wisely put into these areas or paying down your mortgage, auto or credit card debts.

- Dennis Hinkamp