Social Security Disability Benefits for Cancer

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Social Security Disability Benefits for Cancer

Have you been diagnosed with cancer? One of the last things on your mind should be making ends meet. Fortunately, there could be financial resources available for you and your family. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers disability benefits for people in need.

The primary form of disability benefits is known as Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. In order to be eligible for SSDI, you have had to work throughout most of your adult life and paid a sufficient amount of taxes to SSA. So long as you’ve worked part-time for any five of the past ten years, you will almost certainly qualify for SSDI benefits.

While many cancers have a good prognosis thanks to advanced technology and medical advances, your treatment may keep you from working.

Medical Qualifications and the Blue Book

The SSA has strict guidelines when it comes to determining an individual as disabled. There is a medical guide, which is known as the Blue Book, they use to determine whether or not you are considered medically as disabled and meets the qualification for disability benefits. There are some cancers that meet Blue Book approval based on advancement of the cancer, while others are approved based on the diagnosis alone.

Some cancers may not initially qualify with just a diagnosis, but may be approved if the cancer has “metastasized,” or spread. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the collarbone, colon cancer that has spread to the pancreas or liver, or lung cancer that has spread to the kidneys would qualify for disability benefits. The location and severity of the cancer as well as its response to treatment and your symptoms and side effects are all taken into consideration. If your cancer has returned despite a round of treatment, you will almost always medically qualify for benefits.

Cancers That Qualify by Diagnosis Alone

There are some cancers that automatically qualify for Social Security disability just by diagnosis. If you are diagnosed with any of the following cancers, you will automatically qualify for SSDI benefits:

  • Esophageal
  • Pancreatic
  • Spinal Cord Carcinoma
  • Mesothelioma of the Pleura
  • Inflammatory Breast Cancer
  • Small Cell Cancer of the Lungs
  • Liver Canccer
  • Primary Cancer of the Bile Ducts
  • Primary Cancer of the Gall Bladder
  • Thyroid Cancer


Qualifying for Disability Using a RFC

If you do not meet the Blue Book listing for your form of cancer, you could still be approved for disability benefits. You will need to have your doctor fill out a residual functioning capacity (RFC) on your behalf. An RFC form defines your limitations clearly, so disability determination services can understand what you are able to do and what you are no longer able to do. Your physician will complete a RFC and state your limitations and how your symptoms are impacting your ability to work and handle your daily activities. You can download an RFC online.

For many kinds of cancer, the SSA will need to consider your disability using a medical-vocational allowance in which a disability examiner or a disability judge decides whether a claimant is able to participate in work activity at a sufficient amount to earn substantial and gainful income. This is a process in which any past work activities and experience in addition to any other kinds of work that the SSA believes you may be able to do are considered based on your limitations and functional capacities.

In addition to the limitations brought on by your cancer and your cancer treatment, any long-term physical side effects brought on by the treatments, such as cognitive and memory disorders and slowed thought processes will also be given consideration. Your age, education level, and work skills are also considered when determining whether or not you are disabled and eligible for benefits.

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

You need to supply the SSA with all of your medical records, physician notes, documentation of your symptoms and how they affect you, test results, and any surgical notes. You do not need to physically give the SSA these forms, as the SSA will gather your hospital records on your behalf. All you will need to do is list all the doctors you’ve worked with and hospitals where you’ve been treated.

Before applying for disability benefits, it is wise to speak with your oncologist. Your oncologist will be able to offer advice as to how you can qualify for benefits. He or she can fill out additional paperwork or statements on how your upcoming cancer treatments prevent you from working to assist your claim. When you have doctors working with you, your chances of approval can be greatly improved.

In the event that your cancer spreads or progresses, you should notify the SSA as soon as possible. If you are interested in applying for Social Security disability benefits, you can call the SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 or visit the SSA’s website at

This article was contributed by Social Security Disability Help, an independent organization dedicated to helping people of all ages receive benefits. If you have any questions, or need any assistance with your claim, feel free to reach our staff at:

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David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation
(609) 489-0011
Main Office & Mailing Address
102 East Bay Ave, Suite A
Manahawkin, NJ 08050