Disability Benefits for People with Cancer

By Michelle Shvarts
Principal Attorney

Seeing a loved one or yourself suffering might be challenging in itself, however, that if combined with the financial burden can make it even difficult to cope with the burden of cancer as a disease.

As Martin Luther King once said, ‘Where a man stands in comfort and convenience doesn’t matter, what matters is where he stands at times of challenge and controversy’. The SSA is aware of the emotional turmoil and financial burden that comes with cancer, therefore they have included the longest listing of impairments under a separate section for cancer that deals with almost all kinds of cancer(s).

Qualifying for disability benefits for some aggressive types of cancers can be easier than others depending on the severity, treatment and duration of the disease. Some other factors the SSA includes are:

  • Origin of the cancer.
  • Extent of involvement.
  • Duration, frequency, and response to anticancer therapy.
  • Effects of any post-therapeutic residuals.

Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, you may also be required to present evidence of these medical records:

For operative procedures, including a biopsy or a needle aspiration:

  • Operative note and
  • Pathology report

If the primary site cannot be identified, then you may be required to present medical evidence for metastasis reports of the main site.

Also, in some situations, you may be required to present your doctor’s notes or your medical reports about recurrence, persistence or progression of the cancer, the response to therapy, and any significant residuals.

You may be approved for disability benefits if you meet any of the criteria for these types of cancers:

  • You have undergone anticancer therapy

This means you had surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormones, immunotherapy or other stem cell transplantation to treat your cancer. You may be required to reproduce medical evidence showing that the treatment(s) affected your functioning in substantial gainful activity, SGA.

  • Metastases

Your cancer has spread to other cells by blood, lymph or other body fluids.

  • Multimodal therapy

This indicates a combination of two or more types of therapy to treat the cancer such as radiation and surgery to treat the affected tissues. Other examples include chemotherapy followed by surgery, chemotherapy and concurrent radiation etc

  • Progressive

This means that the cancer became more extensive after you initiated treatment; that is, there is evidence that the cancer started growing after you had completed at least half of the prescribed treatment

  • Recurrent or relapse

This means the cancer that was in complete remission or evicted totally has returned.

The types of cancers included in SSA’s listing of impairments:

  1. Soft tissue cancers of the head and neck
  2. Skin cancer
  3. Soft tissue sarcoma
  4. Lymphoma
  5. Leukemia
  6. Multiple myeloma
  7. Cancer of the salivary glands
  8. Cancer of the thyroid gland
  9. Breast cancer
  10. Skeletal system sarcoma
  11. Maxilla orbit or temporal fossa
  12. Cancer of the nervous system
  13. Lung cancer
  14. Pleura or mediastinum
  15. Esophagus or stomach cancer
  16. Cancer of small intestine
  17. Cancer of large intestine
  18. Liver or gallbladder cancer
  19. Pancreatic cancer
  20. Kidney, adrenal glands or uterus carcinoma
  21. Urinary bladder carcinoma
  22. Cancers of the female genital tract (carcinoma or sarcoma)
  23. Prostate gland carcinoma
  24. Testicle cancer
  25. Penis cancer
  26. *primary site unknown
  27. Cancer treated by bone marrow or stem cell transplantation
  28. Malignant melanoma

If you have a severe cancer not listed in the listing or if you do not meet the severity guidelines, you may still qualify for disability benefits for cancer depending on how the cancer is affecting other bodily organs included in the listings. For example, malignant cancer of liver may be affecting your immune system severely, which in turn may turn you eligible for disability benefits.

For more details and personalized guidance please contact our disability advocates in California.

About the Author
Ms. Shvarts is the managing attorney for Disability Advocates Group. She opened Disability Advocates Group to assist individuals who became disabled and unable to work to obtain the benefits they need and deserve.  Ms. Shvarts and the rest of the team at Disability Advocates Group are dedicated to assisting individuals obtain Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.