How Disabling is Breast Cancer?

Approximately 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. The risk of breast cancer increases as we age. More and more people are living longer with breast cancer, and there are currently over 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States today.

If you have breast cancer, and your symptoms keep you from working at a capacity that could support yourself, you might qualify fo disability assistance through the Social Security Administration (SSA). The Social Security Administration oversees programs to assist those who have become disabled due to diseases such as breast cancer.

What Exactly Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer happens when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells usually clump together and form a lump in the breast. Breast cancer can start in many areas of the breast and can also spread, or metastasize, to surrounding tissues or throughout the body.

Breast cancer is often found when a lump is felt during a breast exam. It’s important to note that not all lumps in the breast are cancer. Breast cancer is also discovered by a special x-ray called a mammogram. If a lump is found, a woman often undergoes a biopsy. A biopsy uses a needle to take out fluid and tissues from the breast, which can then be examined to determine if there is cancer present.

Treatments for breast cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, and medications to treat the symptoms.

Qualifying for Social Security benefits with breast cancer

Breast cancer treatments have come a long way. The average 5-year survival rate is 90%. If the cancer was found early and is in only one location of the breast, the 5-year survival rate is 99%. If the breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it is much harder to treat--Which is where Social Security disability programs may come into play.

How Can I Expect My Work to be Affected?

The symptoms and treatment for breast cancer depend entirely on the stage at which it was found. The stages of breast cancer range from 0 to 4, with stage 4 being the most advanced. The stages are dependent on the size of the tumor, whether or not lymph nodes are involved, and if the breast cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.

The SSA uses a medical guide known as the “Blue Book” to determine which disabilities qualify for financial assistance. Here are some signs that your breast cancer might qualify you for Social Security disability benefits:

  • If your breast cancer has spread to your collar bone nodes or 10 or more axillary nodes, you will qualify for financial assistance. Additionally, if it has spread to the chest wall, skin, or other organs, you are also eligible for Social Security disability benefits.
  • If your cancer has returned despite treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation, you will qualify for benefits.
  • If you have small-cell, also called oat cell cancer, you will qualify for Social Security benefits.
  • If you have secondary lymphedema, which causes swelling of the arms or legs, you have a good chance of qualifying for help.
  • If the side effects of your treatments cause symptoms that make it difficult to work you may qualify for benefits. Side effects of your treatments may cause extreme exhaustion, nausea, or headaches. If these symptoms are so severe that you might miss too much work, you may qualify for benefits.
  • If you experience pain due to your breast cancer, you may be entitled to assistance. For example, pain in your breast or under your arm may make it difficult to lift your arm. If your job requires the use of your arm, which most jobs do, you may be eligible for social security benefits.
  • If you experience memory loss, confusion, or mood disorders such as anxiety or depression, as a result of your breast cancer, you may also qualify for benefits from the SSA.

Do I Qualify for Benefits?

To be eligible for Social Security benefits, your medical records will need to show that your breast cancer is severe enough to prevent you from working at a level which would support you. Additionally, your breast cancer needs to be expected to disable you for at least one year.

The SSA recognizes that some types of breast cancer are more severe than others. Therefore, if you have breast cancer that has spread to distant parts of your body or if you have breast cancer that is unable to be surgically removed, you will likely qualify for a quick approval, also called a “Compassionate Allowance.”

What Information Will I Need to Provide?

When applying for Social Security for your breast cancer, you will need to provide the following:

  • Confirmation of your diagnosis of breast cancer from your Physician, including biopsy results and a pathology report.
  • Physician notes discussing your symptoms, treatments, limitations, and long-term prognosis. The records should also include how you are responding to the treatments.
  • Surgical reports including the examination of any tissue examined as a result of the surgery.
  • Images such as X-rays, MRIs, or CAT scans showing the location of your tumor or spread of the disease.
  • Laboratory results
  • Records from other physicians or providers that may be involved in your care.

The more information that you have from your physician or hospital, the better your chances are of being approved for SSA benefits.

I Want to Apply. What’s Next?

A breast cancer diagnosis is both scary and overwhelming. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you should contact a disability advocate or lawyer in your area. A qualified attorney can help you determine if you are eligible for benefits and can assist with the process of applying for benefits. 

Additional Resources 

Find Out If I Qualify for Benefits!