Can I Work with Cancer?

If you have been diagnosed with cancer and are unable to work for at least a year, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. These benefits can help cover costs of daily living needs while you are unable to work. This includes medical costs, rent, utilities, etc.

There are more than 100 distinct diseases which are broadly classified as cancer. While there are many differences between one form of cancer and the next, all forms of cancer involve uncontrolled cell growth in the affected part of your body. While cell growth (and division, dying, etc) is normal in a healthy body, in a cancer sufferer, the cell growth becomes uncontrolled and begins to form tumors, which can affect the functioning of various organs and bodily functions.

Cancer cells multiply and often spread from the originating organ to other parts of the body. Cancers are defined and named for the part of the body from which the abnormal cell growth originated regardless of which parts of the body the cancer may have spread to.

Early detection is key to treating cancer. A variety of treatments are available, with two of the most common being radiation treatment and chemotherapy. Often, these treatments make it impossible for cancer sufferers to continue to engage in meaningful work.

Can I Get Disability for Cancer?

If you have cancer and you are unable to work for at least 12 months it is possible to get disability benefits for cancer automatically.

However, when you file your application for disability benefits applicants will be asked to provide a cancer diagnosis, biopsy reports and physician notes. You can use the Blue Book as a guide when applying for SSDI to determine what evidence you will need.

This evidence confirms how serious your cancer is and that you are unable to work. Many cancer survivors suffer permanent side effects from their treatment for cancer and it is also possible to get disability benefits due to treatment symptoms.

Chemotherapy and radiation may have a significant impact on your life making it hard to take part in everyday tasks.

Some of the treatments cause vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, weakness, skin, and mental ailments. When submitting your claim for disability benefits you should make sure you include the symptoms you suffer from the treatment given to you and include how long the treatment is for and how long you suffer the side effects from it.

If these are the only effects of your cancer the effects of treatment need to last for at least 12 months to ensure you qualify for a disability benefits.

It is important to document your side effects with your doctor. It may also be helpful to ask someone else to write a statement who has witnessed how the cancer treatments have affected you.

What Benefits Are Cancer Patients Entitled to?

Cancer patients who are unable to work for at least 12 months due to their medical condition are entitled to disability benefits depending on their circumstances.

SSDI benefits are for cancer victims who have paid their social security taxes and earned work credits. You can earn a maximum of four work credits per year. The number of work credits for eligibility for SSDI will depend on your age. If you are under 24 years old, you will need 6 work credits. If you are between 24 and 30 years old the number is 8, while a 30-year-old will need 18 credits and 4 and a half years of work. If you are between 31 and 42 years you will need 20 work credits to qualify. If you are over 62 years you will need 40 work credits with 10 years spent working.

For any cancer victim who does not have the required work history to qualify for disability benefits, may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This is available to those who have cancer or another disability and has limited financial resources. The SSA determines eligibility for SSI by assessing your household income and the assets you have. To qualify for SSI, a family’s combined income and resources must total less than $3,000. If you are not married your income and resources must be less than $2,000.

Not included in the assets test is the home you live in and the land it is on, one vehicle, regardless of its value as long as you or a household member uses it for transportation, household goods and personal effects such as wedding and engagement rings and life insurance policies with a combined face value of $1,500 or less. Individuals with cancer who are approved for SSI benefits will receive a monthly income payment up to the maximum Federal benefit rate as determined by the SSA. In some cases, however, the Federal benefit rate may be supplemented by payments from the state in which a claimant resides, increasing the total SSI payment.


You may be eligible for Medicare at any age if you qualify for disability benefits because you have cancer. To qualify, you must be either a United States citizen or legal permanent resident for at least five continuous years. It covers hospital care, doctor’s visits, and prescriptions.


You may also be eligible for Medicaid which is a federal - state program that may help you if you have cancer and have a low-income whatever your age. Patients will usually not pay anything for medical treatment.

Is Cancer Considered a Disability?

Cancer is considered a disability under the SSA’s definition if the cancer is inoperable and cannot be successfully treated with surgery, has recurred after treatment, or has metastasized to other places. If your cancer meets this definition and you have the medical evidence to prove it, you should be eligible for SSDI or SSI depending on your circumstances.

Cancer and Your Ability to Perform Physical Labor

Most forms of cancer can cause severe pain and fatigue, which can make it impossible to perform physical work. Additionally, many of the treatments used to fight cancer can cause debilitating symptoms which hinder physical activity. Assuming you don’t have a form of cancer which qualifies you for a compassionate allowance, the extent and severity of your cancer’s impact on your ability to perform physical tasks will be considered in determining if you are qualified for Social Security Disability benefits.

Generally speaking, in order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, your cancer must be expected to last (or have already lasted) at least one year or to end in your death. Additionally, your cancer symptoms (or treatment related symptoms) must prohibit you from performing any job which you have performed in the past 15 years or for which the SSA determines you could reasonably be trained. This includes jobs of all levels of physical exertion, including light physical work (defined as requiring occasional lifting of up to 25 pounds and regular lifting of up to 10 pounds). Make sure that all physical limitations are clearly detailed in terms of what you can and cannot do on your Social Security Disability application. Having a Social Security Disability attorney help you fill out your claim or appeal improves your chances of having your claim accepted by the SSA’s adjudicators.

Cancer and your Ability to Perform Sedentary Labor

Many who are incapable of performing physical work still qualify for sedentary work. The SSA defines sedentary work as work which requires you to sit for extended periods of time and to lift less than 10 pounds. Sedentary work often involves education, people skills, or manual dexterity. Cancer can and does often affect a sufferer’s ability to work with people and his or her manual dexterity. You will want to make sure that all physical and mental hindrances to employment are clearly and thoroughly mentioned in your Social Security Disability claim.

Can I Work with Cancer?

Qualifying For Disability Benefits With Cancer

All forms of cancer can qualify you for Social Security Disability benefits if your condition is severe and advanced enough, and some forms of cancer automatically qualify you for Social Security Disability benefits. To qualify for Social Security disability benefits with cancer, you must meet the SSA's Blue Book listing for your specific type of cancer. The Blue Book is the list of conditions that qualify for disability.

Under section 13.00 Neoplastic Diseases, you can find how different forms of cancer qualify for disability benefits. Each listing will explain what tests or symptoms need to be met to qualify for benefits.

For example, those with breast cancer can qualify for disability benefits if the cancer is locally advanced, carcinoma with metastases to the supraclavicular or infraclavicular nodes, is recurrent carcinoma, is small-cell carcinoma, or secondary lymphedema that is caused by anticancer therapy. Differing. Lung cancer can qualify for disability benefits if it is non-small-cell carcinoma, small-cell carcinoma or carcinoma of the super sulculs with multimodal anticancer therapy.

Use the Blue Book as a guide to make sure you have enough medical proof to qualify. Many initial claims are denied due to lack of medical evidence, so diligently following the Blue Book listing may help increase your chance of your claim getting approved.

Automatically Qualifying For Benefits With Cancer

Over 40 forms of cancer automatically qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. If you have one of these forms of cancer, you will qualify for a compassionate allowance, which will allow you to start receiving Social Security disability benefits and Medicare much more quickly (generally within three weeks) than other Social Security Disability claimants. There are many conditions that qualify for disability benefits. You can check the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s list of qualifying conditions or check with a Social Security Disability lawyer for more detailed information regarding compassionate allowances.

Qualifying When You Do Not Meet the Blue Book

If you do not meet a Blue Book listing or the compassionate allowance program but are unable to work due to cancer, you may still be eligible for benefits. To do so, you will need a Medical Vocational Allowance. You can request that a doctor completes a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).

An RFC will be completed by a doctor, explaining how your symptoms and side effects from cancer and treatments impacts your ability to work. It will elaborate on a variety of tasks, including:

  • how long you can sit or stand,
  • how much weight you can carry, push and pull,
  • what postural limitations you have,
  • manipulative limitations,
  • communication limitations,
  • environmental limitations,
  • and if you are receiving treatment.

These questions will help better paint a picture how cancer is impacting your work ability in the field you were trained it. It can demonstrate that to DDS that you medically qualify for benefits.

Can I Work with Cancer?

What Is The Trial Work Program?

If you receive disability benefits because you have cancer, the time may come when you want to try to return to work. You will have a trial-work period, in which you can work and determine if you are able to earn a living, before you lose your benefits.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers those receiving disability benefits a 9-month trial work program. This trial work period is used to determine if the claimant can return to work and earn a living.

There is one 9-month trial work period every 60 months, so if you have a trial work period and don’t succeed, you can try again in 5 years and start over.

During this trial work period, you can determine if your health has improved enough to allow you to get back into the workforce and earn a living. When you are working during this 9-month trial period, you can work and not be in jeopardy of losing your disability benefits.

The trial program is contingent on you reporting your work activity to the SSA. You will report the hours worked, the money earned, and your expenses associated with working. During the trial work period, you will continue to receive your regular monthly disability check.

Even when your trial work period has expired, you will receive your disability benefits for any month that you don’t earn what is considered substantial gainful activity (SGA).

As of 2024, that is $1,550 per month for a disabled worker and $2,590 per month for individuals who are blind. If you make more than SGA, you will not receive disability benefits that month.

But, even if your earnings exceed SGA and you no longer receive disability benefits, you can still qualify for Medicare Part A for at least 93 months if you still need medical treatment just as long as you pay the premiums. You can continue with Part B if you continue paying your premiums.

While your attempt to reenter the workforce may be successful, there is always a chance of you suffering from worsening health again or a recurrence of cancer. If you must stop working within the next five years after you have returned to work, you can have your benefits reinstated in an expedited manner.

You will not have to reapply for disability benefits, and you wouldn’t have to wait to receive benefits while your case is being reviewed. However, the trial work period doesn’t have the same limits as SGA. While the SGA limit is $1,550 per month, the trial work limit is only $1,110. You don’t want to inadvertently use up your trial work period by making more than $1,110 each month.

Passive Income

Many people on disability benefits have a passive income. This kind of income usually has no impact on your disability benefits. Passive income comes in many forms, such as rental properties, interest from bank accounts and investments, and royalties or commissions from a book you have written.

Money earned by passive income requires little to no daily effort to maintain or keep it going. While you will need to keep records of this income for your taxes, you should also maintain documentation for the SSA so you can prove that it is passive income should the SSA have any questions after you file your taxes.

Can I Work with Cancer?


If you are self-employed, such as a contractor, a freelancer, or a co-owner of a business, the process can be more complex. Your hours are then taken into consideration. As someone who is self-employed or who is the owner or co-owner of a business, you may work several hours and not receive pay for that time.

The SSA will then review both your income received as well as the hours that you work. In general, a self-employed individual receiving disability benefits can work an average of 10 hours per week – or 45 hours per month – and still receive disability benefits.

So usually, you can work up to 45 hours each month and still qualify for disability benefits, but that only applies if you aren’t the only person who works for the business and just as long as you aren’t making significant sums of money.

The SSA will apply tests to the disabled worker’s income and situation. These tests depend on the length of time that the claimant has been receiving disability benefits to determine if his or her work is beyond the allowable SGA level.

As an example, you may have been receiving disability two years, and you may be allowed to receive substantial income as long as the 45 hours per month isn’t exceeded. Deductions are taken from your income if you are self-employed.

They take business expenses into consideration along with the cost of your medical care and special needs, such as prescriptions, medical devices, or special equipment so you can do the job. Be sure to keep detailed records that show your expenses associated with your ability to perform the work duties in question. This can include prescription receipts, the costs of special software, and any special equipment that you require just so you can work.

Consult With A Disability Lawyer

If you have been unable to work because of cancer, you may want to consult with a disability attorney who handles cases in your area. An attorney may be able to determine if you are working above the limits or if you still qualify for disability benefits.

You don’t want to end up in a situation where you cannot pay your bills because you have lost your disability benefits because you earned over the limit, but those earnings aren’t enough to take care of your expenses.

A disability lawyer may be able to help you determine your cancer will qualify you for disability benefits. Complete the Free Case Evaluation on this page to get connected with a participating attorney in our network.

Return to A Guide to Cancer and Social Security Disability Benefits.

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