Uterine cancer (of which the most common type is endometrial cancer), ovarian cancer, and Fallopian tube cancer are three of the types of cancer that affect a woman’s reproductive system.
Overview of Women's Reproductive Cancers
Uterine cancer is cancer of the uterus (commonly referred to as the womb), which is the organ in which the fetus grows when a woman becomes pregnant. The lining of the uterus is called the endometrium and cancer that forms in the lining (endometrial cancer) is the most common type of uterine cancer. Uterine cancer is highly curable, though the likelihood of being cured is generally related to how early the cancer is found.
Ovarian cancer is cancer that begins in the ovaries, the organs in the women’s reproductive system that produce eggs. Ovarian cancer is generally not diagnosed early as the symptoms are vague and can be attributed to other things. Later diagnosis decreases the survival rate; 75% of women survive one year after ovarian cancer diagnosis and 50% survive five years after diagnosis. If ovarian cancer is diagnosed in its early stages, it is highly curable.
Fallopian tube cancer is cancer that begins in the fallopian tubes, the tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus. It is a very rare cancer, making up only 1% of all cancers of women’s reproductive systems. Fallopian tube cancer has a cure rate and survival rate that is slightly better than that of ovarian cancer. If it is diagnosed in the early stages, 95% of people will survive five years after their diagnosis.
Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits
In order to qualify for Social Security Disability or SSI disability benefits, you must prove that you either meet the requirements of a listing in the Social Security “blue book” (a listing of conditions that will automatically qualify you as disabled if met) or prove that you are unable to do any job because of your symptoms and limitations.
Meeting a Listing
There is a specific listing for cancer of the female genital tract, which includes women’s reproductive organs. Each specific type of cancer has its own elements, which are noted below, but the general requirement to qualify for automatic benefits is that the cancer must have spread or returned after treatment.
To qualify for disability, uterine or endometrial cancer must have:
- spread to other organs
- spread to or beyond the regional lymph nodes, or
- failed to go into remission, or returned after the initial round of treatments.
Fallopian tube cancer is eligible for disability only when it has:
- extended to the serosa (the outermost layer of the fallopian tube) or beyond, or
- failed to go into remission, returned after the initial round of treatments.
Eligibility for disability for ovarian cancer depends on the kind of tumor. One of the following is required:
- germ cell tumors that are getting worse or have returned after the initial round of treatments
- other types of tumors that have:
- extended beyond the pelvis into surrounding tissue
- spread to or beyond the regional lymph nodes, or
- returned after the initial round of treatments.
Social Security has also suggested that ovarian cancer that cannot be operated on or removed fully or has spread beyond the ovaries would equal the above listing due to the severity and duration of the cancer. Stage III and Stage IV ovarian cancer should automatically qualify for disability benefits.
Medical Evidence Considered
When determining whether you meet this listing, Social Security will consider the origin of the cancer, the extent of the cancer in the body, treatments your doctor has used and the body’s response to those treatments, and any long-term effects you've had from the treatments. The following medical information should be in your medical records (when available):
- the type, extent, and site of the original cancer and where it has spread
- operative notes and pathology reports from biopsies (when available)
- evidence that the cancer is getting worse or has returned, and
- your body’s response to treatments.
Timing of Disability Decisions and BenefitsIf you have recently completed the initial round of treatmentsSocial Security may wait to make a decision on your case to allow more time to see if the treatment has worked
However, Social Security has a fast-track process for conditions that are very severe, called compassionate allowance conditions. Ovarian cancer that cannot be operated on or removed fully is listed as a compassionate allowance, as is small cell cancer of the uterus or ovary.
If you believe your condition qualifies as a compassionate allowance, Social Security recommends that you provide with your disability application your doctors' opinion as to why they believe the ovarian cancer cannot be operated on and evidence that supports their opinion. For ovarian cancer that cannot be fully removed, you should provide operation notes that show the cancer was not fully removed or a pathology report that shows cancer is still present after the surgery. This will help Social Security process your application in a few weeks rather than several months.
After you are approved for benefits, Social Security will deem you disabled based on the cancer listing for at least three years after your cancer is in remission.
Assessment of Your Abilities
If you don't meet the requirements of Social Security's listing for cancer of the reproductive organs, you can qualify for disability benefits by showing that your symptoms and limitations affect your abilities so much that you cannot work. To determine if you are able to do any work, Social Security will consider the limiting effects of your symptoms and treatments in a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment.
Limiting Symptoms of Reproductive Organ Cancers
Social Security will consider any symptoms that are recorded in your medical records. Here are some common symptoms of the reproductive cancers.
Uterine/endometrial cancer. Cancer of the uterus can produce the following symptoms:
- abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting, or discharge
- pain or difficulty when urinating
- pain during sex, and
- pain in the pelvic area.
Ovarian cancer. Cancer of the ovaries sometimes produces the following symptoms:
- bloating or swelling of the belly
- difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- pelvic or lower abdomen pain
- unexplained back pain that gets worse over time
- abnormal menstruation
- digestive problems, including constipation, lack of appetite, indigestion, nausea, and vomiting
- vaginal bleeding
- weight gain or loss
- excessive hair growth that is coarse and dark, and
- sudden urges to urinate or needing to go more than usual.
Fallopian tube cancer. The only symptoms of cancer of the Fallopian tubes are vaginal bleeding or discharge and pelvic pain, making it hard to diagnose early.
Side Effects of Reproductive Cancer Treatments
The treatments for these cancers are similar. Below is an overview of the treatments and possible long-term effects of those treatments. Social Security will consider any limitations caused by the long-term effects of your cancer treatment if your doctor has recorded them in your medical records or set them out in a medical source statement.
Surgery. For those with uterine/endometrial cancer, a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) can be performed. For those with ovarian or Fallopian tube cancer, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal or the fallopian tubes and ovaries) can be performed. The long-term effects of these surgeries include early menopause, infertility, and urinary incontinence, and estrogen replacement can cause osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can be used alone or with other treatments for all of the cancers above. Long-term effects of chemotherapy include damage to your heart muscles, which can increase your risk of heart failure, liver or kidney damage, decreased concentration, decreased motor function, and decreased memory.
Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy can be used alone or with other treatments. Side effects of radiation therapy for these reproductive cancers include bladder and bowel problems.
Hormone therapy. Hormone therapy is the use of hormones or hormone blockers to fight cancer. The long-term effects of hormone therapy can include weakening of the bones and decreased adrenal function, which causes tiredness, weakness, and blood pressure and blood mineral abnormalities.
For all of these treatment options, depression and anxiety are often noted as long-term effects as well.
Development of Your RFC
Social Security will include severe physical and mental limitations in your RFC. Physical limitations focus on problems lifting, moving, walking, standing, and even sitting. For those with the types of cancers noted above, back and pelvic pain caused by the cancer may make exerting physical energy or sitting for longer periods of time more difficult. Fatigue may also be caused by bleeding, lack of appetite, and difficulty eating. Cancer treatments can also bring on additional impairments that may decrease disability applicants' ability to perform physical work tasks, including osteoporosis, heart, liver, and kidney damage, decreased motor function, and decreased adrenal function, which can lead to fatigue and weakness.
The mental limitations that will be a part of your RFC include the inability to complete tasks, get along with others in the workplace, and appropriately handle work stresses. For those with ovarian, uterine, or tubal cancer, the side effects of treatment, including depression, decreased concentration, and decreased memory, could affect their ability to complete tasks. Depression and anxiety could also affect their ability to get along with others and to be able to handle work stresses.
How Your RFC Is Used
Social Security will put your age, education level, and work experience along with your RFC into a formula to determine if you are able to work. For more information, see our section on how Social Security decides if you can work.