Cancer

Social Security disability recognizes that cancer can prevent you from working, due to physical limitations, emotional trauma, medication side effects and fatigue associated with medicines and treatment. Quite naturally, your focus after receiving a cancer diagnosis will be on obtaining treatment and surviving the ordeal, it stands to reason that work attendance and performance will not be a priority for you.

Social Security rules allow for three different approaches to recover disability benefits if you have been diagnosed with cancer:

Approach 1 – Do you Meet a Cancer Listing?

SSA recognizes that some medical conditions are so debilitating that disability clearly and inevitably flows from a particular diagnosis. Social Security describes these conditions in a book called the “Blue Book” Listing of Impairments.

The listing for cancer may be found here under malignant neoplastic diseases. If you review the listing for cancer, you will descriptions of 27 different types of cancers, with some sections containing subcategories. Here is what Social Security says about how a judge or adjudicator should evaluate a cancer diagnosis. They should consider the following factors:

  • Origin of the malignancy.
  • Extent of involvement.
  • Duration, frequency, and response to antineoplastic therapy. Antineoplastic therapy means surgery, irradiation, chemotherapy, hormones, immunotherapy, or bone marrow or stem cell transplantation. When we refer to surgery as an antineoplastic treatment, we mean surgical excision for treatment, not for diagnostic purposes.
  • Effects of any post-therapeutic residuals.

A cancer diagnosis may also produce listing level impairment due to side effects of medication or even depression. Should you be diagnosed with cancer, you and your attorney should look at the listings to see if any of these “shortcut” paths to a finding of disability apply in your situation.

Approach 2 – Does your cancer diagnosis result in an exertional impairment that would qualify you for disability under Social Security’s “grid rules?”

The grid rules (more formally known as the medical-vocational guidelines) apply when you have a physical impairment and are:

  • over the age of 50
  • have a limited education and/o
  • unskilled or minimally skilled work background

These rules reflect Social Security’s recognition that claimants with limited education and/or skills who over the age of 50 and who have physical limitations will have a very difficult time finding work. You can read more about the grid rules here.

Approach 3 – Does your cancer diagnosis result in a reduction of your capacity for work such that you cannot reliably perform even a simple, entry-level job?

This approach focuses on the question of whether you would be a reliable employee. Cases built on this theory of disability include evidence (from your doctor) that as a result of your diagnosis and treatment, you are likely to miss excessive time from work, need a high number of unscheduled breaks from work, or that you will have difficulty maintaining a reasonable level of attention and concentration given your symptoms.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer and want more information about how to apply for Social Security disability or about the disability adjudication process, please contact our office.

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