Some impairments are so serious, and certain to qualify for disability benefits, that the Social Security Administration (SSA) expedites the handling of applications for benefits based on these impairments. These are called “compassionate allowance conditions."
Which Cancers Are Compassionate Allowances?
The cancers on the list of conditions that qualify as compassionate allowances are those that are easily assessed based on a small amount of objective evidence, such as a doctor's diagnosis or a biopsy, and those that would meet the criteria of an SSA disability listing based on that evidence. Cancers fall under Section 13 of the disability listings: Malignant Neoplastic Diseases. The cancers on the compassionate allowance list usually have a poor prognosis.
There are currently 24 types of cancer that are compassionate allowance conditions. For 9 of these cancers, a simple diagnosis is all that's required to qualify for compassionate allowance program and an expedited approval of your disability benefits. The other 15 cancers on the compassionate allowance list require that the cancer has progressed.
Criteria for Some Cancers to be Compassionate Allowances
As mentioned above, some types of cancer need to have progressed to a certain point in order to be a compassionate allowance condition. To qualify for the compassionate allowances program, the SSA requires that these cancers be either:
- inoperable (surgey is not an option)
- unresectable (surgery didn't remove it)
- recurrent (it came back after being removed or in remission), or
- having distant metastases.
Let’s look at one example of a cancer that needs to have progressed to a certain point in order to be a compassionate allowance condition: stomach cancer.
If your medical records show that you have been diagnosed with stomach cancer AND your condition meets at least one of the following, your application will be expedited under the compassionate allowance program:
- Your stomach cancer is inoperable.
- Your stomach cancer is unresectable.
- Your stomach cancer extends to surrounding structures.
- Your stomach cancer is recurrent.
- Your stomach cancer has metastasized to or beyond regional lymph nodes.
If you are diagnosed with stomach cancer and one of the five criteria above apply to you, the SSA will expedite your application for disability under the compassionate allowance program. As long as your medical records support that diagnosis, you will be found disabled by the SSA.
Although the SSA prefers a diagnosis based on a biopsy, the following are examples of what may also be used to diagnose stomach cancer: blood tests, endoscopy, fecal occult blood test (a test that looks for blood in the stool), and a CT scan.
Cancers That Require a Simple Diagnosis
- Esophageal Cancer
- Gallbladder Cancer
- Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)
- Liver Cancer
- Pancreatic Cancer
- Peritoneal Mesothelioma
- Pleural Mesothelioma
- Small Cell Lung Cancer
- Thyroid Cancer
Cancers That Need to Be Metastatic, Inoperable, or Recurrent
- Adrenal Cancer
- Anaplastic Adrenal Cancer
- Bladder Cancer
- Bone Cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Head and Neck Cancers
- Kidney Cancer
- Large Intestine Cancer
- Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
- Ovarian Cancer
- Small Cell Cancer (of the Large Intestine, Ovary, Prostate, or Uterus)
- Small Intestine Cancer
- Stomach Cancer
- Ureter Cancer
Cancers That Are Not Compassionate Allowances
Not every cancer and stage of cancer is a compassionate allowance condition. There are some types of cancer, mostly those with a good prognosis, that are not considered compassionate allowance conditions. That does not mean you will not qualify for disability if you do not have a compassionate allowance condition, it just means your application will not be fast-tracked by the SSA. People with compassionate allowance conditions may receive a decision from the SSA in a few weeks after applying, while those people without impairments on the compassionate allowance list may wait a few months for a decision.
Applying for the Compassionate Allowance Program
You do not need to fill out a special application to be eligible for a compassionate allowance on the basis of cancer. If your diagnosis meets the criteria on the compassionate allowance list, you will be found eligible for disability and the process will be much faster.
Medical Evidence Required for Compassionate Allowances
You should make sure your application contains enough medical evidence to support your diagnosis. Some of the compassionate allowances for certain types of cancer require a pathology report detailing the findings of a biopsy, while other types of cancer on the compassionate allowance list do not require a biopsy. If you have had a biopsy, the findings of the pathologist who examined your tissue samples should be included.
In some cases, whether or not a certain type of cancer qualifies as a compassionate allowance condition depends on how far it has spread. For instance, metastatic breast cancer is eligible for the compassionate allowance program, but Stage I breast cancers are not. If your cancer has spread, your medical file should have documentation of these secondary, metastatic tumors.
If you have had any surgeries related to removing cancerous tissue, the surgeon’s notes should be in your record, including any reports from the microscopic examination of any tissue that was removed in the surgery.
Your medical record can also include supplemental information like lab tests involving blood or urine, CT scans, ultrasounds and any other tests that are applicable for diagnosing your particular kind of cancer.
For more information, see our section on SSA programs for expedited disability benefits.