Getting Disability for Multiple Myeloma

Certain blood test for multiple myeloma results can qualify you for disability benefits automatically.

By , J.D. · Albany Law School
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that forms in your plasma cells, a type of white blood cell found in your bone marrow (the soft tissue found in the center of your bones). Plasma cells are a key part of your immune system, since they make proteins that help your body to fight infections.

When cancer develops in your plasma cells, it weakens your immune system, allowing infections to attack your body. Additionally, multiple myeloma causes an increase in abnormal proteins (immunoglobulins) in your blood, which can affect your bones, kidneys, and production of healthy red blood cells.

Is Multiple Myeloma a Disability?

As a neoplastic disease (cancer), multiple myeloma has its own listing in Social Security's "Blue Book" of impairments. That means that if you have a diagnosis of multiple myeloma—confirmed by specific lab tests—that doesn't respond appropriately to treatment, you'll likely qualify for disability.

Because multiple myeloma is manageable in some people while causing severe symptoms in others, you might not meet the requirements of the listing. In that case, you still may be able to qualify for disability benefits if your symptoms or complications keep you from working.

Symptoms and Complications of Multiple Myeloma

Symptoms of multiple myeloma vary from person to person. Most people don't report any symptoms when the cancer is in its early stages. (Multiple myeloma stages are based on lab results showing specific amounts of proteins and enzymes in the blood.) Stages range from 1 to 3—commonly written as the Roman numerals I, II, and III—with the higher stages reflecting more advanced cancer.

Once symptoms or complications do arise, they typically affect the following body systems.

Bone Damage and Fractures

When abnormal plasma cells accumulate, they can cause holes in the bone (viewable on X-ray) called osteolytic or lytic lesions. Bone problems commonly cause pain, most often in the lower back and ribs. Nerve impingement can result as bones weaken and collapse, resulting in pain, tingling, or numbness in the limbs associated with the affected nerves.

Kidney Problems From Increased Calcium

Damage to the bones can cause calcium to enter into the bloodstream, causing digestive symptoms, confusion, and tiredness. Excessive calcium can also damage the kidneys, organs that filter your blood. Symptoms of kidney problems can include:

  • muscle weakness
  • difficulty in thinking or concentration
  • constipation and loss of appetite
  • increased thirst and urine production
  • nausea and vomiting, and
  • fatigue.

Kidney problems can sometimes progress into kidney disease, with more severe symptoms that often require more invasive treatment.

Blood Disorders

As the plasma cells increase, the number of red blood cells available to carry oxygen throughout your body decreases, resulting in anemia and fatigue. Dysregulation of proteins and enzymes in your blood can weaken your immune response, making you more susceptible to infections such as pneumonia or psoriasis. And hyperviscosity—when blood thickens due to the extra protein—can cause symptoms ranging from fatigue and confusion to headache and chest pain.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits for Multiple Myeloma

If symptoms from your multiple myeloma keep you from working full-time for at least one year, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Before Social Security can determine whether you're disabled, you'll need to show that you're legally eligible to receive at least one type of disability benefit. Eligibility for SSDI is based on how many work credits you've earned, while SSI is available to applicants who have income and assets below a certain threshold.

Applicants with multiple myeloma who satisfy the preliminary eligibility conditions can then get benefits if they meet Social Security's definition of disability.

Getting Disability by Meeting the Listing for Multiple Myeloma

Social Security has a special category of medical disorders—called listed impairments—that the agency considers especially severe. You can qualify for disability benefits if your medical records contain specific evidence required by a listing.

The requirements for multiple myeloma are found in listing 13.07. To qualify for benefits by meeting this listing, you'll need to provide the following:

  • serum or urine protein electrophoresis (a lab test that helps determine the amount of protein in your blood) and bone marrow findings that support your diagnosis of multiple myeloma, and
  • evidence that despite anticancer therapy—such as surgery or chemotherapy—you haven't responded to the treatment or the cancer has gotten worse.

Note that if you've had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, Social Security will consider you automatically disabled for 12 months from the date of the transplantation. After 12 months, the agency will re-evaluate your case to see whether you're still disabled.

Getting Disability by Showing You Can't Work

If your multiple myeloma doesn't meet listing 13.07—perhaps because the results of your blood tests or imaging studies don't show that the cancer is progressing—you can still qualify for disability benefits if you're unable to do any type of full-time job.

When deciding whether you can work, Social Security first reviews your medical records, self-reported daily activities, and doctors' opinions to determine your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a set of restrictions on what you can and can't do in a work environment.

Fatigue and pain are two of the most common symptoms that can affect your RFC. These symptoms don't just restrict your ability to complete physical tasks, they can also limit how well you perform mental tasks and get along with others. For example, you may get fatigued from lifting more than ten pounds or standing for more than two hours. Pain can interfere with your ability to think clearly and follow instructions.

Social Security will include any limitations from these (and other) symptoms in your RFC. The agency then compares your current RFC with your past jobs to see whether you could do those jobs today. If you can't, Social Security will need to determine if any other jobs exist that you can do with your RFC, using additional factors such as your age, education, and work experience.

Applying for Disability Benefits for Multiple Myeloma

You can start your application for benefits in several ways.

  • File online at Social Security's website.
  • Call 888-772-1213 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, to speak with a representative who can help you fill out the forms. (People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call the TTY number at 800-325-0778.)
  • Go to your local Social Security field office to complete the application in person.

You can also get help with your application from an experienced disability attorney. Your lawyer can handle communications with Social Security, gather medical records, and represent you (if necessary) at a disability hearing.

Updated December 19, 2023

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