All men are at risk of developing problems with their prostates, a walnut-shaped gland that surrounds the urethra. Prostate problems can range from relatively minor to life-threatening.
While most prostate conditions aren't likely to keep you down for long, more serious conditions could prevent you from working much longer. Read on to learn when your prostate problem might be severe enough to qualify you for Social Security disability benefits.
Many prostate problems can be treated and managed with:
Some conditions, like prostate cancer, require more aggressive treatment and can spread to other parts of your body. And sometimes, prostate issues don't respond to treatment, or the treatment causes severe side effects.
Whether or not a prostate problem causes disability comes down to how your symptoms affect your ability to day-to-day functioning. To meet the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) medical requirements for disability, you'll need to prove that:
The three most common types of prostate problems include:
Each condition affects your ability to function differently.
Prostatitis is the swelling or inflammation of the prostate gland and is most often caused by a bacterial infection. The condition is painful and can include the following symptoms:
Prostatitis is generally treated with antibiotics and usually takes a few weeks to clear. But complications can arise from prostatitis, such as:
Benign prostatic hyperplasia is an enlargement of the prostate gland that becomes increasingly more common as men age. With BPH, the prostate enlarges inward, squeezing the urethra and causing problems with urination. Symptoms can include any or all of the following:
BPH generally worsens over time, and complications can arise, such as:
Prostate cancer is a very common type of cancer for older men (second only to skin cancer). It involves cells in the prostate gland, and most prostate cancer cases also involve adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer that grows in the epithelial cells (the cells that line the prostate gland). Prostate cancer often metastasizes (spreads) to bones and lymph nodes.
Because there aren't many symptoms in early prostate cancer, early diagnosis is usually the result of a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test. While abnormally high levels of PSA can mean prostate cancer, a biopsy is required to confirm the diagnosis. Later symptoms of prostate cancer can include:
To stop the spread of the disease, treatment of prostate cancer is often aggressive and can involve:
Although prostate cancer has a high survival rate, the side effects of treatment can keep you from working. And the disease isn't always manageable; it's sometimes fatal.
If you can't work because of your prostate problem, you might qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. But to be eligible for benefits, you must meet the requirements of a listing in Social Security's Blue Book or prove that your condition prevents you from working in any type of job.
The Blue Book lists all the medical conditions that can automatically qualify you for disability benefits. To "meet a listing," you must prove that your condition matches the requirements of the listing.
For example, prostate cancer falls under listing 13.24. If you meet this listing, you'll automatically qualify for disability benefits. To meet the listing, your prostate cancer must:
If your cancer has metastasized, you'll need to submit a CT scan or MRI that shows the cancer has spread or a biopsy of the metastatic tumors, or if you have a diagnosis of small-cell cancer, you'll need a biopsy showing small-cell histology.
But if you have prostatitis or BPH, there's no listing to meet, although, if the condition causes permanent damage to your kidneys or another organ, you might meet a listing for the damaged body part.
If you have a prostate condition that doesn't have or meet a listing, you still might qualify for benefits. But you'll need to prove that your condition significantly limits your ability to work a full-time job.
If your prostate problem doesn't meet a listing, but you can't work, you might still qualify for benefits. Social Security will use your medical records, doctor's opinions, and activities of daily living to assess your "residual functional capacity," or RFC.
Your RFC indicates what you can still be expected to do, given your condition, and will include any limits you have on things like:
Pain and fatigue from medical treatment or sleep disturbances are the two most common effects of prostate problems. These symptoms can decrease your abilities in many areas, including:
If you need to urinate frequently or have pain and stiffness in your hips and lower back, those limitations should be in your RFC report. If your prostate symptoms are frequent or long-lasting or are brought on by stress, you should include this information in your application or report to the SSA, as it can affect your ability to do work.
Social Security will add limitations to your RFC based on how severe your symptoms are.
Social Security will look at all of your limitations together when determining if there's any kind of work you can still do. The more limitations you have in your RFC, the fewer jobs you'll be expected to be able to do.
If your RFC contains enough limitations to rule out all types of work (for example, you need to use the restroom every 30 minutes), you'll qualify for disability benefits. Learn more about how Social Security makes this assessment—including special rules for people over 50.
If your prostate problem isn't severe enough to keep you from working on its own but you have another medical condition like arthritis or depression, you might still qualify for disability benefits. A prostate problem combined with other impairments can push you over the threshold because Social Security is required to consider the combined effect of all your impairments on your ability to work.
If you can't work because of prostate cancer or another prostate problem, Social Security disability benefits can provide much-needed income. When it comes to applying for benefits, you have three options:
Be prepared to provide your basic information, including your name and Social Security number, plus information about your medical condition and the health care providers treating you. Social Security will also need information about your work history and wages, including contact information for your employers.
But don't put off your application because you don't have everything you need. Social Security can help you gather any necessary information or documentation you don't already have. Applying sooner protects your eligibility for benefits and can even increase how much you receive.
Learn more about how the timing of your disability application can affect your claim.
Updated September 22, 2023