Can I Get Disability Benefits for Having Bladder Cancer or Kidney Cancer?

Applicants for advanced stages of bladder or kidney cancer are likely to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Bladder cancer and kidney cancer are frequently diagnosed cancers that occur in the urinary tract system. Kidney cancer includes renal carcinoma (a cancer that develops in the lining of the tubes of the kidney, also called renal cell cancer) and renal pelvis carcinoma (a cancer that develops in the center of the kidney). Transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) is a cancer that occurs in the inside lining of the bladder.

Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Urinary Tract Cancers

There are several symptoms associated with bladder cancer and kidney cancer, such as: tiredness, unexplained weight loss, increased frequency of urination, pain during urination, pain in your abdomen or side, a lump in your side, and finding blood in your urine.

Your doctor may use several techniques to discover whether you have cancer. She may use a physical examination, a CT scan, an MRI, a cell biopsy (removal of tissue to test for cancer), urine lab tests, and/or a cystoscopy (using a tube to examine the bladder).

Treatment for bladder cancer could include surgery, chemotherapy, and the use of drugs for targeted therapy.

Obtaining Disability Benefits for Bladder Cancer or Kidney Cancer

Depending upon the severity of your symptoms and your response to cancer treatment, you may be eligible to receive Social Security disability (SSDI/SSD) benefits and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits for these cancers.

There are three routes on how to obtain disability benefits for bladder or kidney cancer:

  • Your cancer can qualify under the Compassionate Allowances List.
  • Your cancer can qualifies under the Listing of Impairments.
  • You have such severe restrictions from your disease of cancer that you are unable to perform any work for at least a year (or longer).

(In addition, see our overview article on disability for cancer for information on general requirements.)

The Compassionate Allowances Program

If you have a later stage bladder or kidney cancer, when your application for SSD and/or SSI benefits is received, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider whether you meet the requirements of the Compassionate Allowances program. This program was designed to grant benefits to applicants with serious illnesses as quickly as possible.

The SSA will want medical proof that you have bladder cancer or kidney cancer and that these cancers are either inoperable (surgery would not be useful) or unresectable (cancer has not been fully removed). Proof of cancer may be shown through a pathology report (which states a diagnosis after examination of cells under a microscope) or an operative report (which states what occurred during a surgical operation). The SSA will also consider an opinion written by your doctor that is supported by medical findings.

Meeting a Disability Listing

The Listing of Impairments (known as Social Security's "Blue Book") describes a variety of medical conditions and gives guidelines for each condition on how applicants can be found disabled. If an applicant meets the requirements under a listing, the SSA will consider her disabled.

To qualify for benefits under the bladder listing, you must provide medical documentation of one of the following factors:

  • The cancer has infiltrated beyond the bladder wall (usually Stage 3).
  • The cancer has reoccurred after a total cystectomy.
  • The cancer is inoperable or unresectable, or
  • The cancer has spread to or beyond the regional lymph nodes (usually Stage 4).

To qualify for benefits under the kidney cancer listing, you must provide medical documentation of one of the following:

  • The cancer is inoperable, unresectable, or recurrent, or
  • The cancer has spread to or beyond the regional lymph nodes (stage 4).

Qualifying for Disability Benefits Based on a Limited Functional Capacity

If you don't qualify under a cancer listing because your cancer has not progressed as much as the above listings require, the SSA will assess your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is the most that you can do while working a regular 40-hour workweek. Generally, if you cannot sit for six hours in an eight-hour day and cannot stand or walk for long periods of time (called "less than sedentary" work), then you will be found disabled. Depending on your age, you also can be found disabled if you can perform sedentary or light exertional level work. In addition, if you are markedly limited in your concentration, persistence, or pace, then you can be found disabled.

The SSA will consider any combination of limitations you may have resulting from your bladder cancer or kidney cancer when establishing the level of work you can do. Having bladder cancer or kidney cancer can cause both physical and emotional limitations. Physically, you might be unable to stand for long periods based on symptoms of weakness or pain. You might also need to take frequent breaks, which could interfere with your ability to perform work. Mentally, you might have depressive symptoms, which can affect your ability to concentrate for sustained periods or to perform work tasks at a normal pace. In addition, the side effects of treatment for bladder cancer or kidney cancer normally include nausea, fatigue, and pain.

A possible RFC for someone with bladder or kidney cancer could be the ability to work at a sedentary exertional level (sit for six hours out of eight hours and stand or walk for two hours out of eight hours), lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently, and have occasional contact with the general public. This RFC would prevent you from working in most occupations, but it still would allow you to perform some work. Unless you are older than 55 and have a limited education (or are a worn out worker), the SSA is likely to say that there are a substantial number of sedentary jobs that you can do.

Because of this, it's important to determine whether the SSA evaluated your RFC correctly. If the above RFC contained just one additional limitation, such as the need to take frequent breaks or the inability to interact with the public, you might be found disabled.

In developing your RFC, the SSA must consider your own statements regarding your ability to work, any medical opinions from doctors who have treated and examined you, and statements from family and friends who have knowledge of your work limitations. For more information on the RFC process, see our article on how the SSA uses your RFC to determine disability.

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