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Breast Cancer and Social Security Disability

Individuals who have never applied for Social Security Disability benefits often do not realize just how stressful, complicated, and lengthy the approval process can be. Once they become familiar with the numbers, facts and statistics, they often find themselves wondering how people with severe or critical disabilities are able to endure such a process.

While the initial application process for Social Security Disability benefits only takes three to four months, only about one-quarter of these applications are approved at this stage. The applicants who are denied disability must then endure a lengthy disability appeal process, which usually results in a hearing before an administrative law judge. Unfortunately, hearings are often scheduled for more than a year out due to the high number of backlogged applications.

The Social Security Administration has recognized that some disability applicants cannot wait years (or even months) for their disability claims to be approved. As a result, the Compassionate Allowances initiative was established in 2008, which offers expedited handling of applications based on 88 different severely disabling conditions. Individuals who have been diagnosed with inoperable or unresectable breast cancer, or with breast cancer with distant metastasis, may qualify for benefits under the Compassionate Allowances program.

Breast Cancer - Condition and Symptoms

Breast cancer is the result of an uncontrolled growth of breast cells. The condition most commonly develops in the lobules of the breast (which contain the milk glands) or in the ducts that drain milk from the lobules to the nipple of the breast. In some cases, breast cancer can begin in the fatty tissue of the breast, but this is not common.

If a case of breast cancer is not caught early enough, the cancerous cells will spread from the originating area to the healthy tissue of the breast. If left untreated, the cancer cells will make their way to the lymph nodes, which are small organs located under the arms responsible for filtering out foreign substances from the body. If cancer cells make their way to the lymph nodes, they can then progress from the lymph nodes to other areas of the body.

The symptoms of breast cancer can vary between individuals, and depend partly on how far the cancer has progressed. Some common breast cancer symptoms include swelling of the breast, skin irritation or dimpling, pain in the breast, nipple pain, a turning inward of the nipple, changes to the skin of the breast, discharge from the nipple, or a lump in the underarm area.

Breast cancer is diagnosed in five different stages:

  • Stage 0 breast cancer is diagnosed when the cancer cells remain inside the duct of the breast and there is no invasion of the adjacent breast tissue.
  • Stage I breast cancer is diagnosed when the tumor is less than two centimeters in size and the cancer has been confined to the breast.
  • State IIA breast cancer is diagnosed when no tumor can be found in the breast, but there are cancer cells found in the axillary lymph nodes. Stage IIA cancer may also be diagnosed in a tumor of any size when the cancer has spread to the axillary lymph nodes or in the lymph nodes near the breastbone.
  • Stage IIB breast cancer is diagnosed when any size tumor is found and the cancer cells have spread to the chest wall or the skin of the breast and the axillary lymph nodes.
  • Stage IIC cancer is diagnosed when the cancer has spread to the chest wall or the skin of the breast and the axillary lymph nodes and the lymph nodes near the breastbone and the collarbone.
  • Stage IV breast cancer is diagnosed when the breast cancer has metastasized to other areas of the body.

When breast cancer has metastasized, or is inoperable or unresectable, the condition qualifies for disability claim processing under the SSA's Compassionate Allowances program.

Filing for Social Security Disability with Breast Cancer (with Distant Metastases, Inoperable, or Unresectable)

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer that has metastasized, is inoperable, or is unresectable, you will qualify for Social Security Disability benefits under the SSA's Compassionate Allowances guidelines. When filing your claim with the Social Security Administration, you will need to provide sufficient medical evidence along with your disability application. Medical records, lab results, and written statements from your doctors should all be included with your Social Security Disability application.

Providing the Social Security Administration with as much medical evidence as possible is crucial to the success of your disability claim. Not all adjudicators are familiar with the specifics of a breast cancer diagnosis. Providing the SSA with the proper medical evidence and preparing your application properly will prevent any delay in approval and will ensure that the adjudicator who is reviewing your claim understands the extent of your disability and how it qualifies you for approval under the SSA's Compassionate Allowances listings.

Your Breast Cancer Social Security Disability Case

There are 88 different conditions that qualify for approval under the Social Security Administration's Compassionate Allowances guidelines, including inoperable or unresectable breast cancer, or breast cancer with distant metastases. That does not mean, however, that an application for Social Security Disability benefits on the basis of breast cancer will automatically be approved by the Social Security Administration.

In some situations, a claim for Social Security Disability benefits that falls under the Compassionate Allowances guidelines can be denied during the initial application stage. This is usually due to a lack of medical evidence or a poorly prepared disability claim. Retaining the services of a qualified disability attorney or advocate can prevent this from happening. If you will be filing a claim for disability benefits due to a diagnosis of breast cancer, you should consider hiring a qualified disability attorney or advocate to assist you in the filing of your disability claim.