Tips on Applying for Disability Benefits with Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is when cells in your lung tissue grow out of control. In the early stages, lung cancer does not show many symptoms, but as the cancer progresses, typical symptoms can present themselves, such as coughing and breathing problems, chest pain, frequent infections, and more. There are two types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer, which spreads more slowly and is the more common form, and small cell lung cancer, which can grow aggressively.

Medical Evidence

If you have lung cancer, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will automatically approve you for disability benefits if you meet one of the following categories:

  • You have non-small cell lung cancer that can’t be operated on or removed, or has come back or spread to other areas of the body
  • You have small cell lung cancer, the less common and more aggressive form
  • You have lung cancer in a certain area at the top of your lungs that has received more than one type of treatment

There is certain information that will be helpful to provide to the SSA as they make their decision about your disability benefits. For instance, you should make sure your doctor’s diagnosis of your lung cancer includes results from a biopsy, a medical test for cancer in a sample of tissue in your lungs. If your cancer has spread to other areas, you should also have medical proof of these new cancer diagnoses. It is also helpful to include any evidence of surgery or treatment.

Note that if your primary cancer, and any cancer that spreads from it to other areas of your body, is gone for three or more years, you will not meet the SSA’s qualifications for disability benefits.

Small cell lung cancer, and certain severe forms of non-small cell lung cancer, also qualifies as one of the SSA’s compassionate allowance conditions. This means that if you provide medical evidence that you suffer from this type of lung cancer, the SSA will speed up your approval for disability benefits

Non-Medical Evidence

If you do not meet any of the SSA’s criteria for automatic approval of disability benefits, there are still options available to you. The SSA will determine your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC), which is an assessment that states what kind of work you will be able to do, if any, despite the symptoms associated with your condition. If your RFC determines that you are unable to perform any of your previous jobs, the SSA will look at your age, education level, and background to see if there is any job you can reasonably be expected to perform. If not, they will most likely approve you for disability benefits.

Your RFC should include a complete and thorough medical history and written statements about how your lung cancer limits your ability to perform certain functions. For instance, a common symptom of lung cancer is a reduced breathing capacity. The SSA may determine that your breathing capacity is so diminished that there is no work you are reasonably able to do.

The SSA also recognizes that common side effects associated with lung cancer treatment, such as memory loss or cognitive issues, may make it difficult for you to perform any job. 

Additional Resources 

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