What Types of Cancer Qualify for Disability Benefits?

Wondering what types of cancer qualify for disability benefits? First, it’s scary to hear the word “cancer,” especially from your doctor. Immediate images probably come to mind: Chemotherapy treatments, scarves used to cover bald heads and fatigue, just to name a few.

The good news is that cancer survivors are living longer. But with that comes the new reality that 1 in 3 of the nearly 17 million cancer survivors in the U.S. are younger than 65. Why does this matter? Because these survivors are potentially eligible for disability if cancer forces them to miss more than a year of work. 

If you’re curious if cancer qualifies for disability benefits, the answer is yes, it often can (but not always). In December 2022, 265,830 people got Social Security disability benefits for neoplasms. Neoplasms are new and abnormal growths of tissue in some part of the body, especially as a characteristic of cancer. Keep reading to learn how to qualify, pay amounts, and more below.

Is Cancer a Disability?

The short answer is that yes, cancer is a disability IF it meets the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of “disability.” This means that not every case of cancer can qualify for SSD benefits.

There are 2 ways to know what types of cancer qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA):

  1. The Social Security Administration’s Blue Book lists your specific cancer as a qualifying disability.
  2. Your cancer symptoms are so severe that you cannot work at all for at least 12 months. If you cannot work at all during your cancer treatment and it lasts more than a year, that counts, too.

If you’re younger than 67 and can find other work besides your last job, you likely won’t qualify for disability. And because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says cancer may be a disability, your current employer may have to make certain reasonable job accommodation efforts until you’re totally unable to work at all.

Is cancer a disability?

The Department of Labor also has protections in place to ensure you can still work even if you have cancer. These protections include:

  • Unpaid time off work for 3 months under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Continued health insurance coverage through your employer
  • Job protection
  • Protection against employer retaliation for requesting FMLA leave

Important: Not everyone is eligible for FMLA.

It’s also important to remember that disability benefits are for working age Americans. Federal law says people who are already drawing Social Security retirement or pension benefits cannot qualify for disability payments. If you start drawing early retirement at or after age 62, for example, then you are not eligible for disability.

Two Social Security Administration Programs Offer Cancer Disability Benefits

The two SSA programs that provide cancer disability benefits are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

What is Supplemental Security Income, or SSI?

SSI pays benefits to people who have limited income and few to no financial assets. Your work history is not under review when you apply for SSI. However, the program counts how much money every person makes who lives in your home against your monthly income limit.

You must make less than $1,550 per month to qualify for SSI unless you are blind. If you are blind, you must make less than $2,590 per month. You must have less than $2,000 in total assets as an individual to qualify for SSI. For couples, that asset limit is $3,000 for you both.

How Much Does SSI Pay?

The maximum monthly payment available for SSI is $943 for individuals and $1415 for married couples.

Can I Get Healthcare with SSI?

Yes! Applicants who qualify for SSI also get Medicaid coverage starting the same month as their first disability benefit payment.

how to get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cancer benefits

What is Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI?

Social Security disability insurance, on the other hand, pays benefits to adults who:

  • Worked at least 5 in the last 10 years in jobs where they paid into the Social Security trust fund.
  • Have an eligible mental or physical impairment that makes them unable to work for more than one year.

To qualify for SSDI, you must not be able to work in any job for 12 months in a row. Your personal income must also fall below $1,550 per month, but your spouse’s income doesn’t count towards that amount.

How Much Does SSDI Pay?

The maximum SSDI benefit right now is $3,822 per month. You should know, however, that very few people receive that much money. In fact, the average SSDI payment is about $1,537 per month. Each person’s benefit is determined by looking at their average indexed monthly earnings (AIME). This number (AIME) shows how much money you earned and Social Security tax you paid before you stopped working.

How much does SSDI pay?

Can I Get Healthcare with SSDI Benefits?

Yes, but you’ll have to wait for a couple of years. Unless you have ALS, there is a required waiting period to qualify for Medicare. That waiting period of 24 months starts when your SSDI payments begin.

How to Get Supplemental Security Income Cancer Disability Benefits

To get SSI disability benefits for cancer, you first must be able to show that you are unable to work for one year. If that’s the case, you complete an application for Supplemental Security Income payments. You can call your local Social Security office for an appointment and fill out those forms in person.

While SSI payments are a set amount, it also goes up to keep up with inflation during certain years. The SSA uses a COLA adjustment, or cost-of-living adjustment, to determine increases in monthly SSI payments. Even so, you may not get the full amount of the COLA adjustment. That’s because your particular benefit amount depends on other factors, like state SSI and Medicare Part B, for example.

How to Get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Cancer Benefits

Getting SSDI benefits when you have cancer is much the same: First, you have to complete an application.

Then the SSA reviews your work history, age, and current benefit status. If you pass all those requirements, you’ll undergo a medical exam to confirm you truly cannot work. Lastly, the SSA reviews your income, marriage, and dependent birth records to calculate your monthly pay amount.

Even if the Social Security Administration awards you benefits the first time you apply, you won’t receive them right away. Generally, people receive their first payment in the sixth full month after their application acceptance date.

Can I get healthcare?

What Types of Cancer Qualify for Disability Benefits In 30 Days or Less?

Social Security created a compassionate allowances list full of conditions that automatically quality for disability benefits. If you’re wondering what types of cancer qualify for disability fastest, the SSA approves these conditions in about 18-21 days:

  • Acute leukemia
  • Some types of adrenal carcinoma
  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Fibrolamellar cancer
  • Follicular dendritic cell sarcoma
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer

Most of the above cancers also include some qualifiers (example: kidney cancer must be inoperable or unresectable). So it’s important to reference this list to see what types of cancer qualify for disability if you need benefits right away.

What Types of Cancer Qualify for Disability Benefits Most Often?

SSA active payment records from 2015 to 2019 show these types of cancer qualify for disability benefits most often:

what types of cancer qualify for disability most often?

Getting Disability for Cancer Patients Is Easier with Expert Claim Help

Getting a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and scary. Adding the stress of not knowing what types of cancer qualify for disability if you can’t work can feel unbearable. That’s especially true once you start filling out claim paperwork and gathering medical documents while you’re sick.

Working with a disability lawyer can make this process easier while you’re busy with cancer treatment. There’s no risk to you because all disability attorneys work on contingency. This means they charge you no fees upfront and you only pay a fee if the SSA awards you benefits.

In fact, studies show that applications with attorney representation are 3 times more likely to receive benefits within 6 months.

It’s free to find out if you may qualify. If you’re ready to do that, click the button below to start your online benefits quiz now:

Get Your Free Benefits Evaluation

Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.