Tips on Applying for Disability with Cancer

Cancer is a serious diagnosis that affects you, your family, and friends. It causes physical, mental, and financial burdens that you don’t want to deal with. The Social Security Administration (SSA) can help you through one of its disability benefits programs. Many forms of cancer are also on the Compassionate Allowance List, which means your claim can be approved in as little as a few weeks. However, in order the claim to be approved, you need sufficient medical evidence. Here are some things that can make the process a little easier.

Medical Evidence

There are lots of tests available for cancer. They need to specify the type, extent, and site of the primary, recurrent, and/or metastatic lesion. Here are a few of the most popular.

Basic Documentation

Besides test reports, the SSA needs as many of the following as possible.

  • Operative note(s)
  • A pathology report(s)
  • Hospitalization summaries that detail surgical or pathological findings
  • Longitudinal evidence detailing treatments, responses to treatment, reoccurrence, persistence, and progression
  • Specific description(s) of each type of therapy received (i.e. drugs, dosage, frequency, surgery, drug side effects, etc.)
  • Physical findings, including tumor and other symptoms


The SSA prefers most cancer disability applications to include some kind of a biopsy.

  • Needle Biopsy – a needle is used to extract the suspicious tissue
  • CT-guided biopsy – the biopsy is performed while the patient is inside a CT scanner, so the images can guide needle
  • Ultrasound-guided Biopsy – the needle is guided by an ultrasound
  • Bone Biopsy – done via CT scan or by an orthopedic surgeon
  • Bone Marrow Biopsy – the needle is injected through the pelvic bone to collect bone marrow, used for leukemia and lymphoma most often.
  • Liver Biopsy – the needle is injected though the stomach to college liver tissue
  • Kidney Biopsy – the needle is injected through the lower back to collect kidney tissue
  • Aspiration Biopsy (fine-needle aspiration) – the needle draws tissue from inside a suspicious mass
  • Prostate Biopsy – multiples needles at the same time are injected into the rectum
  • Skin Biopsy – a circular blade cuts a cylindrical skin tissue sample
  • Surgical Biopsy – tissue that is in hard to reach places may require surgery to remove

Blood Testing

Complete Blood Count (CMC), peripheral blood smear, blood chemistry test, fecal occult blood test (FOBT), and a number of others to determine levels of different blood cells and minerals in the blood. A FOBT tests for microscopic blood in stool. These are also used in diagnosing many different cancers.

Clinical breast exam (CBE)

A health professional will palpate the breasts and under arms to check the breast size, texture, changes in skin, and location and attachment of lumps.


A health professional examines the inner lining of your large intestine (rectum and colon) with a colonscope.

Chromosome Analysis

Some cancers, especially leukemia and lymphoma can cause changes in chromosomes.

Digital Rectal Examination (DRE)

Used mainly in a prostate screening, the health professional will insert a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel any abnormalities in the prostate.

GI Series (Gastrointestinal Series)

Also called a barium swallow or barium enema, your intestines, esophagus, and stomach is filled with barium to make it more visible on an x-ray. This is commonly used for cancers of the digestive tract.

Image Testing

X-rays, MRIs, CT scan, PET scan, radionuclide bone scan, ultrasound, and a number of others are used in every type of cancer to determine not only the cancer itself, but also metastases and spreading of the cancerous cells.


A flexible tube with a light and camera attached is inserted through the mouth and throat to examine the upper digestive organs, including the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine.

Intravenous Pyelogram (IVP)

An IVP is an x-ray that shows the urinary tract, including the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. It’s used to diagnose cancers of the urinary tract.


A thin tube with a light and camera attached is inserted through an incision in the abdomen to look at the liver and other internal organs.

Lumbar Puncture

A needle is inserted in the lumbar area of the back to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and tested for blood counts, mineral levels and more. This is used to diagnose cancers of the spinal cord, and brain. It can also be used to inject treatments for different types of cancers.


A mammogram is a type of x-ray that shows the chest. It’s used to screen and diagnose breast cancer.

Pap Smear

A pap smear tests for cervical cancer. Cells scraped from the cervix are examined under a microscope for abnormalities.

Urine Testing

Urine testing is used to diagnose cancers of the urinary tract, kidneys, and more. There are many tests, including cystoscopy (examination of urinary tract), urine cytology (microscopic study of cells), and urinalysis (in depth physical and chemical analysis of cells).

Hire a Disability Lawyer

Even if you do not have one of the listed cancers in the SSA’s Blue Book, you can still be approved if your cancer symptoms equal another listing. In addition to the medical evidence describing the severity of cancer, you will also need to prove you cannot work due to the symptoms or side effects.

Disability lawyers can not only help get your claim approved quickly so you can start receiving benefits faster, but they can save you the stress of the application and appeal process as well. They can help with:

  • Collecting relevant and necessary medical evidence
  • Checking or preparing the application
  • Interpreting feedback and other communications from the SSA
  • Relieving stress
  • Getting your claim approved faster

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