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Cancer and Social Security Disability

Cancer - Condition and Symptoms

There are more than one hundred different types of Cancer. All forms of Cancer are characterized by abnormal and uncontrolled cell growth, which may be the result of damage to the genetic material inside a cell. When a cell divides, these mutations affect the next generation of cells which reproduce too rapidly and which do not die as they should. These extra cells sometimes form tumors, which are conglomerations of tissue made up of the extra cells. Not all tumors are cancerous and not all cancers produce tumors.

Cancer can start anywhere in the body and spread to other areas of the body through the lymphatic system or the circulatory system. The particular type of Cancer is usually referred to with respect to the part of the body in which it begins, e.g. Breast Cancer, Pancreatic Cancer, or Colon Cancer.

Be sure to read about tips for applying for disability benefits with cancer before submitting your application to the SSA.

Cancers are grouped into the following major categories:

  • Carcinomas - cancer of the skin or organ tissue lining,
  • Sarcoma - cancer of connective or supportive tissue, such as bone or muscle or blood vessels,
  • Leukemia - cancer of the blood forming tissues, such as bone marrow,
  • Lymphoma and Myeloma - cancers of the immune system, and
  • Central Nervous System Cancer - cancer of the brain or spinal cord.

Because there are many various types of Cancers, there are many different tests that used in the diagnosis of specific Cancers. Your doctor will have access to numerous tests to help him or her rule out other conditions that may cause symptoms similar to Cancer in order to determine the appropriate diagnosis. Correct diagnosis is essential to effective treatment, so most doctors will order multiple tests and refer treatment to an oncologist once they have reason to believe that Cancer is present.

Common diagnostic tests include a complete blood count, blood tests that evaluate the function of different organs, surgery, a bone marrow aspiration or biopsy, a spinal tap or lumbar puncture, a lymphangiogram, an ultrasound or sonogram, a tumor biopsy, a bone scan, x-rays, a CAT scan, or an MRI procedure. Sometimes these tests may be performed more than once over a period of time in order to detect changes in suspicious areas.


While this list is far from comprehensive, certain types of Cancer are indicated by the following symptoms:

Bladder Cancer - blood in the urine, cloudy urine, pain or burning sensation when urinating

Bone Cancer - pain in the bones, swelling, fractures or weakness and fatigue, weight loss, bumps and bruises that don’t heal normally

Brain Cancer - dizziness, drowsiness, changes in vision, weakness, convulsions, changes in personality or speech

Breast Cancer - a lump or thickening of tissue, discharge from the nipple, change in skin, enlarged lymph nodes, hot spots

Colorectal Cancer - rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, abdominal cramps, loss of appetite, constipation and then diarrhea

Kidney Cancer - blood in the urine, dull ache in the back or side, lump near the kidneys, high blood pressure

Leukemia - weakness, fever, and aches, bruising or excessive bleeding, pain the bones and joints, night sweats

Lung Cancer - wheezing, long term cough, bloody sputum, congestion, pain in the chest

Skin Cancer - change in mole or other bump on the skin such as bleeding or change in size or texture

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma - swelling in the lymph nodes of the neck, underarm or groin area, fever, fatigue, weight loss, itchy skin, rashes, bone pain, abdominal swelling

Mouth Cancer - lump in the mouth, lip, tongue or mouth ulcers, bad breath, loose teeth

Ovarian Cancer - abdominal swelling, vaginal bleeding, digestive discomfort

Pancreatic Cancer - pain in the upper abdomen, weight loss, pain in the center of the back, yellow skin, masses in the abdomen

Prostate Cancer - difficulty in urination, inability to empty bladder, bladder urgency, painful urination, blood in the urine, dull ache in the pelvis or back

Stomach Cancer - heartburn, abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, weakness, fatigue, vomiting

Uterine Cancer - vaginal bleeding, watery discharge, painful urination, painful intercourse, pain in pelvic area

Many Cancers can be successfully treated, especially if they are discovered before they have a chance to spread from their location of origin. Some treatments for Cancer include chemotherapy, radiation, proton therapy, surgery, angiogenesis inhibitors therapy, gene therapy, laser treatments, bone marrow transplants, hyperthermia treatment of tumors, and photodynamic therapies.

Filing for Social Security Disability with a Cancer Diagnosis

The Social Security Administration (SSA) addresses most Cancers under Section 13.00 Malignant Neoplastic Diseases. The exceptions are neoplasms that are associated with HIV infection. Those are covered under Section 14.00.

In presenting your application for Social Security disability benefits, you should keep in mind that only Cancer that is severe enough to prevent you from performing any substantial gainful activity will win a favorable determination for disability benefits.

The SSA requires medical documentation that specifies the type, extent, and site of the primary, recurrent, or metastatic lesion. Medical records with respect to surgery must include an operative note and a pathology report, or, if not available, the summary of hospitalization(s) or other medical reports. These reports should include details of the surgical and pathological findings. Records showing recurrence, persistence, or progression of your Cancer may also be necessary.

In evaluating Cancer, the SSA considers the location of your Cancer, its severity, the type, duration, and frequency of your treatment and your response to that treatment, and the effects of any post-therapeutic residuals. These records must cover sufficient time to show whether therapy will be effective. The SSA may defer their decision until the effectiveness of therapy can be assessed. Information about your therapy should include the drugs you are given, plus their dosage, frequency of administration, and plans for continued use, type and extent of surgery, and schedule and fields of radiation therapy. In addition, the SSA requests information regarding any adverse affects of therapy, such as nausea, weakness, neurological or cardiovascular complications, and reactive mental disorders.

Even if it is determined that you are eligible for disability benefits based on a Cancer diagnosis, the SSA may award you benefits only for a specified length of time. Because the SSA assumes that when Cancer therapy ends the disease will go into remission and a claimant will be able to resume work, you may need to reapply in order to continue receiving disability benefits if you are still disabled after treatment. At that time, SSA will also consider whether you have residual issues that have disabled you. For the purposes of eligibility, SSA considers that you are in remission if your Cancer has not been evident for a period of three years or more. If your Cancer returns after a period of remission, it may automatically meet the SSA requirements for reinstatement of disability benefits.

Your Cancer Disability Case

If you are disabled because of Cancer, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Working closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security Disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation to support your disability claim in front of the Social Security Administration can help to ensure that your Cancer disability case will have the best possible chance of success.