Yes, you can potentially qualify for disability benefits if you have cancer. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides disability benefits through two main programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): To be eligible for SSDI benefits based on cancer, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a sufficient period, earning enough work credits. The number of work credits needed depends on your age when you become disabled. 
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI is a needs-based program that benefits individuals with limited income and resources who are disabled. If you have cancer but do not have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI, you may be eligible for SSI benefits if you meet the financial eligibility requirements. 

What is cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases that is accompanied by the uncontrollable growth and division of abnormal cells in the body. These abnormal cells can form tumors or invade nearby tissues and spread to other body parts through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.

Is cancer a disability?

Cancer itself is a medical condition and not automatically classified as a disability. However, the impact of cancer on an individual’s ability to function and work can lead to disability in certain cases. Whether cancer is considered a disability depends on how it affects a person’s daily life, ability to work, and overall functioning.

The term “disability” is often used in the context of eligibility for disability benefits or accommodations under various disability-related laws and programs. In the United States, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that some individuals with cancer may qualify for disability benefits if their condition meets the SSA’s definition of disability.

Types of Cancer

Cancer can develop in almost any part of the body, and there are numerous types of cancer-based on the particular organs or tissues where they originate. Some common types of cancer:

  • Breast Cancer: Cancer that begins in the breast tissue, primarily affecting women but can also occur in men.
  • Lung Cancer: Cancer that starts in the lungs, commonly associated with smoking but can also occur in non-smokers.
  • Skin Cancer: Cancer that develops in the skin, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
  • Bladder Cancer: Cancer that forms in the bladder, the organ that stores urine.
  • Kidney Cancer: Cancer that originates in the kidneys.
  • Pancreatic Cancer: Cancer that starts in the pancreas, an organ involved in digestion and insulin production.
  • Ovarian Cancer: Cancer that affects the ovaries in women.
  • Cervical Cancer: Cancer that develops in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus.
  • Uterine (Endometrial) Cancer: Cancer that forms in the lining of the uterus.
  • Leukemia: Cancer of the blood and bone marrow, characterized by the abnormal production of white blood cells.
  • Lymphoma: Cancer affecting the lymphatic system, including Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Brain Tumors: Cancer that forms in the brain or nearby structures.
  • Liver Cancer: Cancer that originates in the liver.

Symptoms of Cancer

Cancer symptoms can vary depending on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the affected organs or tissues.  It may also lead to anxiety, depression, and other types of disorders. Some common signs and symptoms of cancer include:

  • Unexplained weight loss: Significant and unintentional weight loss without diet or physical activity changes could be a warning sign, especially if it’s rapid and unexplained.
  • Fatigue: Persistent, extreme tiredness or fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest can be an early sign of some cancers.
  • Pain: Continuous or recurring pain in a particular area, which doesn’t improve with usual treatments, may warrant further investigation.
  • Changes in the skin: Changes in the size, shape, color, or texture of moles or the appearance of new skin lesions should be checked by a doctor, as they could indicate skin cancer.
  • Persistent cough or hoarseness: A cough that doesn’t go away, hoarseness, or difficulty swallowing may indicate cancers of the lung, throat, or esophagus.
  • Swelling or lumps: New or growing lumps, bumps, or swelling under the skin, in the breasts, testicles, or lymph nodes should be examined by a doctor.
  • Changes in the breast: Changes in the size, shape, or appearance of the breast, nipple discharge (other than breast milk), or inverted nipples may indicate breast cancer.

Eligibility Criteria for getting disability with cancer

To be considered a disability by the SSA, cancer or any other medical condition must meet the following criteria:

  • Severity: The cancer must be severe enough to significantly impair the individual’s ability to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). SGA refers to the ability to engage in work that pays a certain income level as defined by the SSA.
  • Duration: The cancer must be expected to last for at least 12 months or more.

How does the SSA evaluate cancer claims?

To evaluate your eligibility for disability benefits based on cancer, the SSA will consider the following factors:

  • The type and stage of cancer you have been diagnosed with.
  • The extent of involvement of the cancer and how it affects your physical and mental functioning.
  • The treatments you have undergone or are undergoing and their impact on your ability to work.
  • Any side effects of cancer treatments that limit your functional capacity.
  • Medical evidence from doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers supports your disability claim.

It is important to note that the SSA has specific criteria and a list of impairments, commonly known as the “Blue Book,” which outlines medical conditions that may qualify for disability benefits. Cancer is listed in the Blue Book under specific conditions based on its type and severity. 

Cancer conditions that qualify for accelerated approval

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides an expedited or accelerated approval process for disability benefits in certain cancer cases. This process is known as Compassionate Allowances (CAL). 

Compassionate Allowances are a list of conditions considered medically disabling and automatically qualify individuals for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. CAL was designed to streamline the approval process for individuals with severe medical conditions, including certain types of cancer. Some of the cancer conditions that may qualify for Compassionate Allowances include:

  • Acute Leukemia
  • Bladder Cancer 
  • Gallbladder Cancer
  • Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)
  • Liver Cancer
  • Lung Cancer – Small Cell
  • Mesothelioma
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma
  • Pleural Mesothelioma
  • Primary Central Nervous System Lymphoma
  • Stage IV Breast Cancer
  • Esophageal Cancer
  • Liver Cancer 
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Salivary Tumors
  • Small Cell Cancer of the Thymus
  • Stomach Cancer

My cancer meets the criteria. Now what?

The next step is to apply for the social security disability benefits. Some of the steps to apply are as follows:

  • Gather Medical Documentation: Collect all relevant medical records, test results, pathology reports, doctor’s notes, and any other evidence that supports your cancer diagnosis
  • Complete the Application: The online application is generally the most convenient option. During the application process, you must provide detailed information about your medical condition, work history, and other relevant personal details.
  • Submit Medical Evidence: With your application, submit all the medical documentation you gathered earlier. 
  • Await Decision: The SSA will evaluate your application, medical records, and other evidence to decide. 
  • Appeal if Necessary: Don’t lose hope if your claim is denied. Many initial disability claims are denied, but you can appeal the decision. 

What if my cancer doesn’t meet the criteria?

If your cancer doesn’t meet the specific criteria for a Compassionate Allowance (CAL) condition, it doesn’t mean you automatically do not qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. 

The SSA evaluates disability claims on a case-by-case basis, considering various factors, including the severity of your medical condition and its impact on your ability to work.

Are Your Disability Benefits Denied? Contact a lawyer

If your disability benefits were denied, don’t give up. Experienced disability lawyers may help to appeal the decision and fight for the benefits. They will guide you through the process and work tirelessly to protect your rights.

Disability Conditions That May Qualify For Benefits

Blindness Brain Tumor AFIB Autism
Borderline Personality Disorder Cancer Narcolepsy PTSD
Vertigo Schizophrenia Seizure Dyslexia
Celiac Disease Anxiety Depression ADHD
Agoraphobia Alopecia Asthma Bipolar
Breast Cancer Dementia Dysautonomia Epilepsy
Fibromyalgia Hearing Loss lupus POTS
Scoliosis Sleep Apnea Diabetes