Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits

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If you or a woman you love has been diagnosed with breast cancer, there may be financial assistance available for your family. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers monthly disability benefits for women of all ages who are no longer able to work for at least one year due to breast cancer and its treatments. If your chemotherapy, radiation, or breast cancer complications have caused you to lose employment, here’s how you may be eligible for help:

Medical Qualifications For Breast Cancer

The SSA will use its own medical guidelines when determining if your breast cancer will be eligible for disability benefits. If you can meet the medical criteria outlined by the SSA, your breast cancer claim should medically qualify. For approval, you’ll need to have evidence showing any one of the following:

  1. Your breast cancer is inoperable or untreatable
  2. Your breast cancer has spread beyond a local area, such as to the skin wall, collarbone, or to 10+ auxiliary nodes
  3. You have either IBC or metastatic breast cancer
  4. Your breast cancer returned despite undergoing anticancer therapy (surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy all count)
  5. Your breast cancer had secondary lymphedema, which required surgery to restore functioning of your arm. This will qualify for 12 months after surgery

Usually women with Stage IIIB breast cancer or beyond will qualify under the SSA’s medical criteria. You can review the SSA’s manual on disability approval online with your oncologist to determine if you’ll qualify. 

Qualifying Without Meeting a Medical Listing

If you have Stage I or II breast cancer, it could still be possible to qualify for benefits. Applicants who can prove they’re completely unable to work and earn $1,180 per month (in 2018) can still be approved on a case-by-case basis. This is known as a “medical vocational allowance.”

Your work history will play a major role in your approval with an early stage of breast cancer, as will your age. Those with physically demanding jobs will have an easier time qualifying, as the SSA will assume it’s much harder to continue working on your feet for 12 hours per day while undergoing chemotherapy as opposed to someone with a desk job. Older applicants have an easier time qualifying because the SSA will not expect anyone over age 50 to start a new career from scratch.

A medical vocational allowance relies heavily on the results from a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) evaluation. This paperwork can be filled out by your doctor–it essentially reviews all physical work you’re unable to do due to your breast cancer treatments. It include sitting and standing for extended periods of time, walking, lifting weight, and performing dexterous movements. If an RFC shows that you can no longer do any work you’re qualified for due to your job history, education, and age, you could be approved. You can download an RFC online for your doctor to fill out on your behalf.  

Starting Your Application

The easiest way to apply for disability benefits is online from the comfort of your own home. You can also save your progress to be completed at a later time if you wish. If you’d rather have help applying in person, you can do so at your closest Social Security office. Call the SSA toll free at 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment to apply online.

It should take three to five months to hear back form the SSA regarding your breast cancer claim, but women with IBC or advanced cancer could be approved within 10 days. 


Albie Aware Breast Cancer Foundation

SSA Blue Book 

Medically Qualifying for Breast Cancer

Work History

Residual Functional Capacity form 

SSA Office Locations

SSA Online Disability Application