Zurich is claiming that its Allied Dunbar-branded critical-illness insurance plans have paid out £100m to policyholders in the last three years, doubling the previous eight years' payouts.
It says there has now been more than £200m paid out to policyholders, an increase largely due to advances in medical technology and definitions.
The firm says claims are increasing because medical advances are making it possible to detect diseases earlier so more claims and payouts are being made.
Figures reveal that one in four men and one in five women will contract one of the conditions covered by a standard critical-illness policy before reaching 65.
Survival rates of people with critical illnesses are increasing, with two-thirds of men suffering their first heart attack surviving for at least five years and 40 per cent of women diagnosed with cancer surviving for at least five years.
Zurich has 275,000 CI policies in force and the average payout on a claim is £55,000. Over the last 13 years, the youngest person making a claim was 19 and the oldest was 77.
Protection marketing director Peter Kelly says: “The fact that illnesses are being detected earlier than ever before should provide a wake-up call to people who have made no provision for the unexpected. Protection should be part of everybody's financial shopping list, it is just as important as a mortgage, savings and a pension.”