Most people don’t even think about their liver until they’ve had a few too many drinks. However, this essential organ is responsible for hundreds of life-sustaining functions including making proteins and hormones for other body parts. So, when the liver gets “sick” it’s not good news for a person’s overall health. This is why a liver cancer diagnosis is considered life threatening. Unfortunately, according to the American Cancer Society, liver cancer rates have more than tripled since 1980. And mortality rates have doubled in that time, causing more than 700,000 annual deaths worldwide.
These statistics are not meant to scare, but rather to illuminate that a liver cancer diagnosis is always taken seriously. Including by the Social Security Administration (SSA) as it’s one of the conditions that can speed up SSD claim reviews.
As a result, you should file for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits immediately after a liver cancer diagnosis. Here is what you need to know.
What Are the Symptoms of Liver Cancer?
One of the reasons liver cancer has a higher mortality rate is that many people don’t know they have it.
Liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma or hepatoma, often doesn’t present any symptoms during early stages. By the time evidence of disease shows up, the cancer may already be severe or spread to other bodily areas.
When symptoms of liver cancer do appear, they may include:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and fatigue
- Yellowing skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen
- Abnormal bruising or bleeding
- Enlargement of the liver (felt as fullness under the ribs on the right side)
- Enlargement of the spleen (felt as fullness under the ribs on the left side)
- Prominent veins seen through the skin on the belly
There isn’t one specific cause of liver cancer, and its development is only partially understood. However, there are risk factors that may increase its likelihood, including genetics, hepatitis, cirrhosis, alcohol consumption, diabetes, and chemical/toxin exposure.
The treatment plan varies on the condition of the liver, the size/number of tumors, and evidence of spread. It is generally on a case-by-case basis, but where possible, surgery and chemotherapy are usually the first step.
What Medical Evidence Must a Liver Cancer Disability Applicant Provide?
Liver cancer evaluations must satisfy the criteria in the SSA’s “Blue Book” of eligible conditions (Section 13.19, Cancer – Adult). Basically, an applicant will have to show a positive diagnosis for liver cancer when submitting their claim. This proof will need to be in the form of medical records and physician notes.
To arrive at a diagnosis of liver cancer, a patient will need to have a clinical evaluation by an oncologist/hepatologist. In addition to a physical exam and medical history, there will likely be blood tests to check for liver problems. Further testing for diagnostic confirmation may include CT scan, ultrasound, MRI, angiogram, and biopsy.
Once a patient has a definitive liver cancer diagnosis, the burden of proof is fairly straightforward. The SSA will accept the following to support an SSDI claim:
- A pathology report stating that liver cancer is present in a biopsy specimen.
- A MRI or CT scan showing liver abnormalities compatible with liver cancer along with a blood test showing elevated alpha-feto-protein. High AFP levels may indicate liver cancer.
In addition to submitting either of the above, it may be helpful for an applicant to also include clinical notes from a medical doctor. These should come from a primary care physician, oncologist, hepatologist, or all three if you have them.
How to Get Your Disability Claim for Liver Cancer Expedited
As noted, liver cancer is on the list of illnesses the SSA considers serious enough to automatically qualify for benefits. Known as the Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program, this caveat is in place to help expedite claims for the gravely ill.
An applicant will still have to satisfy all the financial requirements first, however. Those include enough work credits and Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) less than $1,470 per month in 2023. But assuming those basic criteria are met, a CAL designation will push a liver cancer application to the top. Knowing that time is of the essence, the SSA will waive the requisite 5-month waiting period for standard claims. In fact, as many as 95% of claimants applying with a CAL condition get their claims approved in 10-14 days.
In extremely advanced cases, a liver cancer disability application may also receive a terminal (TERI) designation. This will speed up its processing even more.
When to Get Legal Help
While liver cancer definitely qualifies for rapid processing as a CAL/TERI case, the overall application experience can still feel overwhelming. Especially if trying to manage both disability paperwork and medical treatments.
Consulting with a skilled Social Security attorney may help ease additional stress during an already trying time. Plus, these attorneys work on contingency, so there are no fees upfront. Since people with lawyers are 3x more likely to have a successful claim right away, you’ve got nothing to lose. But what you will gain is valuable experience and peace of mind.
Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann