Is Cancer a Disability?

Yes, most cancers are considered a disability by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Most cancers will qualify for a disability benefit by the SSA as long as you have had a confirmed diagnosis, but there are some that might not qualify immediately and will need further diagnostic testing before their symptoms can be considered a disability. For example, esophageal, brain, liver and pancreatic cancer diagnoses normally result in automatic recognition as a disability by the SSA, but non small cell lung cancer may not unless it can be shown that it is inoperable, has spread to other organs or has returned despite at least three months of cancer treatment.

Is Cancer a Disability?

Yes, most cancers are automatically considered as disabilities. This does not in itself mean that you can obtain a disability benefit unless you can show that you will not be able to return to work for at least 12 months or you haven’t worked for that period already because of the advanced state of your cancer.

Types of Cancer That Are Considered a Disability

The following types of cancer are typically automatically regarded as disabilities by the SSA as they are listed in Section 13.00 of the SSA’s Blue Book.

  •  any small cell cancer
  • brain cancer
  • esophageal cancer
  • gallbladder cancer
  • inflammatory breast cancer
  • liver cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • salivary cancers
  • sinonasal cancer
  • thyroid cancer

Other types of cancer may still qualify for a disability benefit but must show evidence that they are inoperable or have metastasized, i.e. spread to tissue distant from the original cancer. Treatment for cancer may turn out to be more disabling than the symptoms of the actual cancer so in some circumstances you may qualify for a benefit because of the cancer treatment.

A disability benefit may also be awarded in the form of a medical vocational allowanced (MVA) even if the symptoms of a particular cancer still do not qualify for a benefit on their own. An MVA may be awarded if it can be shown that the disability prevents you from working for at least 12 months.

How to Get a Disability Benefit For Cancer

Many cancers are recognized by the SSA as a disability as long as you have a confirmed diagnosis by your medical practitioner or oncologist. Most disability benefit applications take several months to process before you start receiving payments, but in some cases, the application may be approved in as little as 10 months.

If your cancer is not on the list of automatically recognized cancers you will need evidence that the cancer is severe enough to be considered a disability. This depends on the specific symptoms you are experiencing, so you should use the Blue Book listing to clarify what evidence you need to supply with your disability benefit application.

Get Help With Your Cancer Disability Claim

Many disability benefit claims are initially denied, especially if your cancer is not in the list of cancers mentioned above. It can be quite challenging negotiating your way through the disability application appeal process and it helps if you have a disability attorney working to support your claim. Many claims are denied because the paperwork hasn’t been filled in completely or medical evidence is insufficient to convince examiners at the SSA’s Disability Determination Services that your cancer is severe enough.

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Additional Resources 

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