Getting Disability for Multiple Myeloma

If your symptoms from multiple myeloma become disabling, you may qualify for Social Security benefits.

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Multiple myeloma, or bone marrow cancer, is a type of cancer that occurs in your plasma cells (a type of white blood cell found in your blood). The plasma cells in your blood are responsible for making proteins that helps your body to fight infections. In addition to allowing infections to attack your body, multiple myeloma causes an increase in abnormal protein in your blood, which can affect your bones, immune system, kidneys, and the number of red blood cells in your blood.

Symptoms and Complications of Multiple Myeloma

The symptoms of multiple myeloma vary from person to person. Generally, there are no symptoms in the early stage of this cancer. Once symptoms arise, they generally occur in the following areas.

Bone Damage and Fractures. Multiple myeloma can cause damage to the bones when the abnormal plasma accumulates in the bone; the damage appears on x-rays as holes in the bones, called osteolytic or lytic lesions. Pain is a common symptom and is caused by tiny fractures in the bones, which most often occurs in the lower back and ribs. The bone damage can also impinge on nerves as the bones weaken and collapse, causing severe pain, tingling, or numbness in the areas controlled by the affected nerves.

Increased Calcium in the Blood. Damage to the bones can cause calcium to enter into the blood stream. Increased calcium in the blood can cause the following symptoms:

  • nausea
  • constipation
  • loss of appetite
  • confusion
  • fatigue, and
  • kidney problems.

Kidney Problems. Kidney problems are caused by excessive protein and calcium in the blood. Symptoms can include:

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

As kidney problems progress into kidney disease, there will be increased symptoms and need for treatments.

Anemia. As the plasma cells increase, the number of red blood cells in your blood (which carry oxygen throughout your body) decrease, causing anemia. The main symptom of anemia is fatigue.

Repeated Infections. A decreased amount of normal protein that helps your body to fight infection can lead to an increase of infections, including pneumonia, kidney infections, and skin infections.

Hyperviscosity Syndrome. Hyperviscosity is a thickening of the blood due to increased protein in the blood. Symptoms vary greatly, from fatigue and confusion to headache and chest pain.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits for Multiple Myeloma

If your symptoms are severe enough, you may qualify for disability benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Meeting a Disability Listing

One way to qualify for disability benefits is by meeting a listing that is set out in the Social Security "blue book." Multiple myeloma has a specific listing: Listing 13.07. You will qualify for disability under this listing if you have multiple myeloma that continues to progress after a full course of initial treatment or if you have had a stem cell or bone marrow transplant within the past 12 months.

Medical Evidence

To show that you meet the multiple myeloma listing, you must provide laboratory results that show qualifying protein levels in the blood or urine and bone marrow findings that support your doctor's diagnosis. You also need to submit evidence of treatments received, including the type and length of treatment and your response to the treatment. If the cancer is progressing, you must provide evidence to show that it is continuing to get worse despite treatment.

Note on Kidney Disease

For those who have significant kidney damage from the disease, you may qualify under the listing for kidney disease, Listing 6.02. If your kidney disease has progressed to end stage kidney disease that requires continuous dialysis, you can qualify for presumptive disability (advance SSI payments). Impairments that qualify under presumptive disabilities are presumed to cause disability and you can receive advance SSI payments even before your case is decided.

Unable to Work

If your medical condition does not meet a listing, perhaps because the results of your blood test or imaging studies don't show that your myeloma is progressing, you might still qualify for disability benefits if you can show you are unable to do any type of full-time job. Social Security will assess your impairments using the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC), which looks at your physical and mental abilities.

Fatigue and pain are two of the most common symptoms that can affect your ability to work. These symptoms can affect not only your ability to complete physical tasks; they can also affect your ability to complete mental tasks and get along with others at work. They can even limit the conditions in which you are able to work (for example, maybe you need to work sitting down using a particular type of chair to limit your pain). If your fatigue and pain become severe enough, they could prevent you from doing any type of sedentary work (work at a desk).

Additional symptoms can also affect your ability to work. Muscle weakness and spinal fractures or other broken bones can further affect your ability to perform physical tasks at work. Confusion and difficulty with thinking can affect your ability to understand and complete tasks.

Social Security will look at the combination of all of your symptoms and impairments and how they affect your ability to work. They will also consider your age, education level, and work experience to determine if you should be deemed unable to work. For more information, see our section on how Social Security decides if you can work.

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