Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women and is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths in females, second only to lung cancer. Approximately 1 in 8 women develops invasive breast cancer, making it a disease that touches many lives. Undoubtedly, someone you know has been impacted by breast cancer.
The good news is that advances in medicine have made it such that more people are surviving breast cancer. In fact, the average 10-year survival rate is 83%. For localized breast cancer that has not spread beyond the breast, the 5-year survival rate is 99%.
For well over 30 years, October has marked National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Recognized in countries across the globe, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month hopes to bring increased attention, education, and funding to support awareness around this all-too-common disease.
How Can Someone with Breast Cancer Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?
While breast cancer is devastating, a diagnosis does not automatically qualify a person for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a list of impairments which contains all of the qualifying medical conditions, as well as the symptoms and medical tests needed to qualify for disability for said condition. Breast cancer is listed in section 13.10 of this medical guide of impairments, known as the “Blue Book.”
To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for breast cancer, you will need to meet one of the following criteria:
- Your breast cancer must be “locally advanced,” meaning it has spread to your skin or chest wall.
- Your breast cancer must be a carcinoma that has spread to the nodes in near the collarbone or to 10 or more axillary nodes.
- Your breast cancer must have spread, or metastasized, to distant locations in the body, such as another organ.
- You breast cancer must be recurrent, or come back, despite treatment.
- You have a rare form of small-cell carcinoma.
- Your cancer therapy has caused lymphedema, or swelling of the lymph system, that has necessitated surgery to save or restore the function of your arm. Individuals who have required lymphedema surgery will be considered disabled for one year from the date of surgery.
The more medical evidence that you have available, the better your odds of being approved for SSDI for breast cancer. You will need to provide documentation such as CT scans, ultrasounds, surgical reports, pathology reports, biopsy results, and comprehensive documentation from your oncologist illustrating your ongoing treatment, as well as your response to treatment.
Individuals with very aggressive forms of breast cancer, such as Stage 4 breast cancer, might qualify for a compassionate allowance. Compassionate allowances allow disability applications to be expedited due to the severity of the disease.
What If I Don’t Meet or Match a Blue Book Listing for Breast Cancer?
Many women diagnosed with breast cancer, especially in the early stages, will not meet the listing as outlined in the Blue Book. In fact, unless you have a Stage 3 breast cancer or higher, it will be hard to meet a Blue Book listing. These individuals will need to earn a medical-vocational allowance. To receive a medical-vocational allowance, the applicant will need to demonstrate that her breast cancer and the effects of her treatments are making it such that she is unable to work.
Using a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment, a Social Security reviewer will evaluate a claimants physical and mental functioning to determine what type of work, if any, that they can do. For example, a woman receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer might experience extreme fatigue and difficulty standing, making a job as a waitress impossible. If the Social Security Administration determines that your breast cancer prevents you from working, you will be awarded financial assistance through a medical-vocational allowance.
How Do I Start the Disability Application Process for Breast Cancer?
While many cases of breast cancer are not severe enough to win an SSDI claim, more advanced cases often do win approval. However, it’s important to obtain legal help early in the application process. An experienced Social Security attorney or advocate can help you complete your application and ensure that all of your medical documentation is gathered quickly and thoroughly. More importantly, a Disability attorney can help take care of the Social Security piece, so you can focus on getting well.