Can I Work with Cancer?

Do You Qualify? Find Out With A Free Disability Evaluation

  • STEP 1. Case Info
  • STEP 2. Contact Info

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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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 2020, that is $1,260 per month for a disabled worker and $2,110 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 $1,260 per month, the trial work limit is only $910. You don’t want to inadvertently use up your trial work period by making more than $910 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.


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 receiving disability benefits because of cancer, you may want to consult with a disability attorney who handles cases in your area. An attorney will 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.

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