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November Awareness Month: Pancreatic Cancer

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, with healthcare practitioners across the nation educating the public on the risk factors and warning signs of the disease, which may include diabetes, a family history, and smoking, among others. Medical practitioners, non-profit organizations, and policy and lawmakers additionally draw attention during the month of November to the need for more effective diagnostic tests and treatment options for malignant pancreatic diseases.

Pancreatic cancer is unfortunately on the rise in the United States, with about 53,000 new cases discovered annually according to the American Cancer Society. A high percentage of these newly diagnosed cases are also found late, because the disease is difficult to detect in its early stages.

Late diagnosis affects average survival rates, and is at least partially responsible for the Hirschberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research’s prediction that this form of cancer will be the leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. by the year 2030.

Does pancreatic cancer qualify for disability benefits?

Forms of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer originates in the pancreas rather than spreading here from other locations in the body. It is however not a single disease but actually includes the more common, highly aggressive exocrine as well as the less aggressive and often more successfully treated neuroendocrine pancreatic tumor forms.

Exocrine pancreatic cancer accounts for about 95 percent of newly diagnosed cases. This form is quite aggressive and may not be caught before it has had the opportunity to spread. Surgical removal of tumors, if possible, is the standard treatment approach. When caught early, pancreatic cancer can sometimes be treated with radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of treatment protocols. When the disease is advanced at diagnosis however, treatment options are limited, as there are no affective anti-cancer therapies for combating metastatic exocrine pancreatic cancer.

Neuroendocrine pancreatic tumors account for only about five percent of newly diagnosed cases and are a less aggressive form of the disease. They are therefore less likely to metastasize to other areas of the body prior to diagnosis and can often be successfully removed during surgery. There are additionally some promising treatment protocols, even with late stage diagnosis.

Disability Benefits and Pancreatic Cancer

The Social Security Administration (SSA) automatically recognizes most pancreatic cancers as qualified medically for its disability benefit programs. Benefits may be available through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both. Approval for benefits may additionally be expedited under the SSA’s Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program, which is intended to push certain applications through the review and approval stages as quickly as possible.

A diagnosis of neuroendocrine or islet cell pancreatic cancer however may require additional medical evidence before benefits can be granted by the SSA. Because this form of the disease can be surgically treated, the SSA only “automatically” approves benefits if the disease has spread or if tumors cannot be removed surgically.

Getting Help with a Disability Claim

When pancreatic cancer is caught early and/or successfully treated, the SSA may not grant benefits, even if symptoms, treatment side effects, and complications prevent employment. In cases like this, a disability advocate or attorney can help throughout the application process and may assist you in winning benefits, particularly if you must file an appeal. Even if you’re automatically qualified, an advocate or attorney can assist with understanding the SSA’s procedures and can potentially help expedite your approval for benefits as well.