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

If you have late-stage bladder or kidney cancer, you’re likely to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Bladder cancer and kidney cancer are the sixth and eighth most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States. Both occur in the urinary tract and can be severe.

The main types of kidney cancer are:

  • renal cell 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).

The most common form of bladder cancer is transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), also called urothelial carcinoma. TCC starts in the inside lining of the bladder (called the transitional epithelium or urothelium).

Is Kidney Cancer or Bladder Cancer a Disability?

Both kidney cancer and bladder cancer can be severe enough to prevent you from working—especially in later stages. If you can't work because of your cancer, you might qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Urinary Tract Cancers

Several symptoms are associated with bladder cancer and kidney cancer, such as:

  • tiredness
  • increased frequency of urination
  • pain during urination
  • pain in your abdomen or side
  • a lump in your side, and
  • blood in your urine.

Your doctor might use several techniques to discover whether you have urinary tract cancer and what type of bladder or kidney cancer it is. Those testing techniques could include any or all of the following:

  • physical examination
  • diagnostic imaging (CT scans, MRIs, or X-rays)
  • cell biopsy (removal of tissue to test for cancer)
  • urine lab tests, or
  • cystoscopy (using a camera to examine the bladder).

Treatment for bladder cancer or kidney cancer can include one or more of the following:

  • surgery
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • immunotherapy (causing your immune system to attack the cancer cells), or
  • targeted therapy (using drugs to attack specific types of cancer cells).

How to Qualify for Disability Benefits for Bladder Cancer or Kidney Cancer

If you have bladder cancer or kidney cancer, you might be eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits depending on the following:

There are three ways to qualify medically for disability benefits for bladder or kidney cancer:

  • Your cancer can qualify under the Compassionate Allowances list.
  • Your cancer can qualify under the Listing of Impairments.
  • You can't do substantial work for at least a year because of your cancer or cancer treatment.

(Learn more about the basic qualifications for SSDI and SSI in our overview article on getting disability for cancer.)

Kidney or Bladder Cancer and the Compassionate Allowances Program

The Compassionate Allowances program is designed to grant benefits as quickly as possible to disability applicants with severe illnesses. If you have later-stage bladder or kidney cancer when you apply for disability benefits, Social Security will process your application for benefits more quickly.

Social Security will need to see medical proof that you have bladder cancer or kidney cancer and that your cancer is either:

  • inoperable (surgery won't help in treating your cancer), or
  • unresectable (surgery can't fully remove the cancer).

You can show proof of your cancer with 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). Social Security will also consider your doctor's written opinion, so long as it's supported by medical findings.

Getting SSDI or SSI by Meeting a Disability Listing

The Listing of Impairments (known as Social Security's "Blue Book") describes a variety of medical conditions that can be severe enough to qualify automatically as disabling. The listings also give qualification guidelines for each condition. If you meet the requirements of a listing, Social Security will consider you disabled.

Bladder cancer falls under listing 13.22. To qualify for benefits under the bladder cancer listing, you must provide medical documentation showing one of the following:

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

Kidney cancer falls under listing 13.21. To qualify for benefits under this listing, you must provide medical documentation showing one of the following:

  • your cancer is inoperable, unresectable, or recurrent, or
  • your 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 hasn't progressed as much as the listing requires, Social Security will assess your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is the most you can do during a regular 40-hour workweek, given your medical condition.

What your RFC Might Look Like

Social Security will consider any combination of limitations you might 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 mental 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 or maintain productivity. In addition, the side effects of treatment for bladder cancer or kidney cancer typically include nausea, fatigue, and pain.

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. Even moderate mental impairments can help you qualify for disability benefits.

How RFCs Affect the Disability Decision

Generally, if you can't sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour day and can't stand or walk for at least 2 hours a day, you'll receive an RFC for "less than sedentary" work. If your medical condition prevents you from doing even sedentary (sit-down) work, Social Security will find you're disabled.

Depending on your age, you might qualify as disabled even if you can perform sedentary or light exertional work. In addition, if you're markedly limited in your concentration, persistence, or pace, you can qualify as disabled.

Correct Mistakes in Your RFC

Social Security relies heavily on your RFC to decide whether you can be expected to work. So, it's critical to determine if Social Security evaluated your RFC correctly.

For instance, if the RFC example above contained just one additional limitation—such as the need to take frequent breaks or the inability to interact with the public—it might be enough to qualify you as disabled.

In assessing your RFC, Social Security must consider all of the following:

  • your own statements regarding your ability to work
  • any medical opinions from doctors who've examined and treated you, and
  • statements from family and friends who know your work limitations.

For more information on the RFC process, see our article on how the SSA uses your RFC to determine disability.

Applying for Disability Benefits for Bladder Cancer or Kidney Cancer

There are several ways to apply for SSDI or SSI disability benefits:

  • file an online application (most SSDI and SSI applicants can now apply online)
  • make an appointment to apply by phone by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, or
  • apply in person at your local Social Security office (avoid long wait times by contacting the office to make an appointment to apply).

Learn more about the Social Security disability application process.

What to Do If Your Claim Is Denied

If your disability application is initially denied, you can and should file an appeal. Most successful disability applications aren't approved until after an appeal hearing.

You can improve your chance of winning your appeal by hiring an experienced disability lawyer. An attorney knows how to develop evidence and present your strongest case. Plus, Social Security disability lawyers work on contingency—meaning you don't pay your lawyer unless you win your claim.

Learn more about how a disability attorney can help with your SSDI or SSI appeal.

Updated January 12, 2024

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