How Severe Does My Cancer Have to be to get Disability Benefits?

Submitted by Deanna on

Social Security has benefitted millions of disabled Americans to date. For those suffering from debilitating illnesses such as cancer, Social Security can be an irreplaceable asset. But how can you tell if your cancer qualifies you for disability insurance?

Social Security’s Blue Book

The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates all illnesses based on their “Blue Book”. This book is a collection of every disability the SSA recognizes as severe enough to qualify for benefits.

Because cancer varies greatly within itself, there is an entire section of the Blue Book dedicated just to it and other Malignant Neoplastic Diseases.

When evaluating a cancer diagnosis, the SSA considers four things:

1. The origin of the cancer

The cancer’s location plays a large role in determining how disabled you are. For example, lung cancer can be especially debilitating by inhibiting the patient’s breathing and making them unable to work, move around, or lead an independent life.

2. The extent of involvement

This refers not to your involvement in the healing process, but to the cancer’s “involvement” throughout your body. The more pre-sent the cancer is, the more likely it is debilitating enough to qualify for benefits.

3. The duration, frequency, and response to anticancer therapy

This includes biopsies, surgery, hormones, transplants, medications, chemotherapy sessions, and any other in- and out-patient therapy. Cancers that do not respond well to treatment or have elongated healing processes are more likely to qualify for benefits.

4. Effects of any post-therapeutic residuals.

This refers to any side effects caused by anticancer therapy. Strong side effects can sometimes contribute to a person’s inability to work, making them more qualified for disability benefits.

In short: the SSA is more likely to qualify cases where the cancer is more resilient, wide-spread, and/or debilitating. If your cancer is present in the Blue Book, prevents you from working, and requires more than one year to heal, chances are high that you qualify for disability benefits.

Other Options for Qualifying for Social Security

If your type of cancer is not featured in the Blue Book or you are unsure of whether or not you qualify, applying for Social Security is still an option. Cases that don’t meet Blue Book standards can still qualify for a “medical vocational allowance”. This is the SSA’s way of saying, “You don’t meet our qualifications exactly, but your case is still severe enough to receive bene-fits.”

To qualify, you must apply for Social Security and provide documentation to prove the severity and longevity of your impairment. Documentation includes operative notes, pathology reports, lab results, doctor’s notes, medical bills, and all other paperwork that can demonstrate your need. If approved, you can still receive Social Security benefits.

Seeking Additional Advice

Regardless of the severity of your situation, there are a few steps you should consider taking before applying for benefits. To start, speak with your oncologist about potentially qualifying. Their medical knowledge of your situation could help determine whether or not Social Security may be right for you.

Second, consider speaking with a Social Security disability attorney. Their legal expertise with cases like yours could not only help you qualify, but could make your application process more simple and less intimidating.

For more information, you can review the Blue Book and application requirements on the SSA’s website.

Blog comments

Rachel (not verified)

Hey if a kid gets took away

Hey if a kid gets took away from the payee, and put into social services home and he still receive the child check can he spend it to get the child and the mother a home? Really need to know our is he supposed to return it back to social security office.

Sun, 08/14/2016 - 23:44 Permalink

In reply to by Rachel (not verified)

Hi Rachel,

Hi Rachel,
Yes, that person may be able to stay the payee, but i may be a good idea to contact the SSA and have a new one assigned.

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 10:54 Permalink
Keri.... (not verified)

My son started receiving

My son started receiving benefits in 2014 from ssi due to cancer and he was under age. I continue to pay my sons phone bill and child support, dad was his payee was he supposed to report child support to ssi since it was income to care for my son

Sat, 09/03/2016 - 00:45 Permalink

In reply to by Keri.... (not verified)

Hi Keri,

Hi Keri,
It may be a good idea to report all income to the SSA as they would be better able to calculate benefits when that is the case.

Tue, 09/06/2016 - 12:01 Permalink
Arletha jones (not verified)

I recieve social security

I recieve social security plus my pension do I apply for ssa

Mon, 09/12/2016 - 08:26 Permalink

In reply to by Arletha jones (not verified)

Hi Arletha,

Hi Arletha,
The acronym SSA refers to the Social Security Administration, not any specific benefits program.

Tue, 09/13/2016 - 09:48 Permalink
Robin (not verified)

I was diagnosed w/Ovarian

I was diagnosed w/Ovarian Cancer Stage 3c (spread throughout abdomen), had surgery in May and now in first-line chemo. I have been unable to work since surgery took 6 weeks to heal and now chemo is dibiltating so I cannot work during treatment. However prior to the diagnosis I was unemployed for about 2 years, prior to that I had my own business (C-corp) that I took a small salary from ($40K). I havent had a W-2 since approx 2008, however I am 56 and have plenty of SS tax payments built up from past jobs. IS there a possibility for me to collect any payments? My husband is only current earner at $60K per year and we have a 16 yo child. Thanks for any feedback!

Sat, 09/24/2016 - 15:02 Permalink

In reply to by Robin (not verified)

Hi Robin,

Hi Robin,
You may be eligible for benefits based off of your work record, but it may be a good idea to contact a disability advocate or attorney, as they can help you with the process of applying for benefits and appealing the SSA's decision if needed. We can have one reach out to you if you fill out the form on the left, alternately you can go here:

Mon, 09/26/2016 - 14:20 Permalink
james hines (not verified)

I have a tbi cant work have

I have a tbi cant work have not paid in for years can I receive ssi for help I paid in for over twenty years I'm 54 years old

Tue, 10/11/2016 - 14:30 Permalink

In reply to by james hines (not verified)

Hi James,

Hi James,
You may be eligible for benefits, but it's always a good idea to contact a disability advocate or attorney regarding applying, they can help you through the process and help you appeal your case if need be. We can have one reach out to you if you fill out the form on the left or if you go here:

Tue, 10/11/2016 - 15:34 Permalink
crystal (not verified)

My daughter was murdered I

My daughter was murdered I can't cope with being around Famliy and kid's she was 13teen 4yesrd ago

Wed, 12/07/2016 - 12:05 Permalink

In reply to by crystal (not verified)

Hi Crystal,

Hi Crystal,
I'm sorry to hear that! I can imagine that going through an experience like that can be very difficult.

Wed, 12/07/2016 - 14:19 Permalink

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