Getting Disability Benefits for Thyroid Cancer

Those without metastatic or anaplastic thyroid cancer will have to prove that the cancer has severely limited their ability to function to get Social Security disability benefits.

By , Contributing Author

Thyroid cancer is cancer that originates in the thyroid gland, which is located in the front of your lower neck, makes proteins, and regulates how quickly your body uses energy and how sensitive your body is to other hormones. Whether you can get Social Security or SSI disability benefits for thyroid cancer can depend on the type of thyroid cancer you have.

Types of Thyroid Cancer

Types of thyroid cancer include:

  • Papillary carcinmona: This type of thyroid cancer is the most common and makes up 80% of all cases. This cancer spreads slowly and is the least dangerous of all thyroid cancers. The survival rate at ten years is 95% for this cancer.
  • Follicular carcinoma: This type of thyroid cancer makes up 15% of all cases. The survival rate is good for this cancer, with 91% of individuals on average surviving five years and 85% surviving at least ten years. The exact survival rate depends on the stage of cancer when it is diagnosed.
  • Medullary carcinoma: This type of thyroid cancer is often found in families, as genetics are one of the main causes of this type of cancer. The survival rate for this cancer is 80% at five years and 75% at ten years.
  • Anaplastic carcinoma: This is the rarest type of thyroid cancer (only 1% of all cases). This type of cancer is aggressive, and most individuals who are diagnosed do not live more than six months. The only treatment that has be found to have any effect on this type of cancer is radiation combined with chemotherapy; even full removal of the thyroid will not change the outcome of this cancer.

(Expedited treatment for "compassionate allowances" is available for those with anaplastic carcinoma, due to the severity and poor prognosis of the cancer. Compassionate allowances are available for certain diseases to be able to receive benefits quickly. For more information, see our article on compassionate allowances.)

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Common symptoms of thyroid cancer include:

  • Coughing and coughing up blood
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness or change in your voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loud breathing
  • Neck pain
  • Enlarged thyroid gland, and
  • Lump on your thyroid gland (which is fast growing in those with anaplastic carcinoma).

Treatment for Thyroid Cancer

Treatments for thyroid cancer include:

  • Surgery to remove the thyroid gland
  • Radiation therapy
  • Radioactive iodine therapy (may be used alone or after surgery to insure all of the thyroid tissue is gone), and
  • Chemotherapy.

In addition, individuals who have had thyroid cancer must take thyroid hormone pills for the rest of their lives.

How to Qualify for Disability Benefits for Thyroid Cancer

There are two ways in which an individual can get Social Security disability benefits (SSDI or SSI). An individual can meet (or "equal") the requirements of one of the medical listings that is set out in the Social Security "Blue Book" or they can show that they are unable to work. Those who are deemed disabled under the cancer listing for thyroid cancer will be considered disabled for up to three years after the date of their remission.

Meeting a Medical Listing

Thyroid cancer has a specific listing in the Social Security "Blue Book" under Malignant Neoplastic Diseases- Thyroid Gland. To meet this listing, you must show that you have one of the following:

  • Carcinoma that has spread beyond the lymph nodes near the thyroid gland and continues to spread despite radioactive iodine therapy
  • Medullary carcinoma that has spread beyond the lymph nodes near the thyroid gland, or
  • Anaplastic carcinoma.

Medical Evidence

The type of medical evidence that is needed to prove the above listing includes:

  • Medical records showing the type of cancer, where the cancer started, the extent of the cancer, and where the cancer has spread to (if it has spread)
  • If you have had surgery, including a biopsy for diagnosis, you will need to provide:
    • Operative notes
    • Pathology reports, or
    • Hospital records (only if the above are not available).

For treatment, you will have to provide specific information about the radioactive iodine therapy, including:

  • Drug used
  • Dose given, and
  • Frequency of dose.

If you are undergoing treatments, Social Security may wait to make a decision until the treatment has time to take effect.

Equaling a Medical Listing

If you do not meet the exact requirements for the above listing, you may be able to "equal" it if you can show that your impairments are of equal severity to those in the thyroid listing. For example, someone who has papillary carcinoma that was treated through surgery, yet the cancer continued to spread to other areas of the body, should be able to equal the listing for thyroid cancer. For more information, see our article on equaling a disability listing.

Lack of Ability to Work

If you don't meet or equal the above listing, you may still qualify for disability benefits if you are unable to work. To show that you are able or unable to work, the Social Security Administration uses a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form. The RFC looks at your physical and mental limitations with regards to work.

For those with thyroid cancer, shortness of breath may affect their ability to do physical work at a job, and treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy, may cause fatigue that can decrease both physical and mental abilities on the job. Social Security will look at all of your impairments and limitations together when determining if you are unable to work. For more information on how Social Security makes this determination, see our section on the RFC getting disability because of medical-vocational limitations.

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