When You Can Get Social Security Disability Benefits for Colon Cancer?

If your colon cancer is considered metastatic, recurrent, inoperable, or unresectable, you are guaranteed automatic disability benefits.

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Colon cancer, along with rectal cancer, is the third most diagnosed form of cancer today. Together these types of cancer are called colorectal cancer, but they are known to Social Security as "cancer of the large intestine." Most colorectal tumors are adenocarcinomas, and less commonly squamous cell carcinomas, but they can be lymphomas or melanomas as well. The most common treatment for colorectal cancer is surgery in addition to chemotherapy and/or radiation; however, sometimes a colorectal tumor is inoperable.

Can I Get Disability for Colon Cancer?

If you suffer from cancer of the large intestine, the general rule is that Social Security will automatically grant you disability benefits only if your colon or rectal cancer has advanced beyond a simple, operable tumor that was removed by surgery or is inoperable. Specifically, you will automatically be approved for benefits if one of the following criteria from Social Security's disability listing for intestinal cancer is true.

  • Your colorectal tumor is an adenocarcinoma that is:
    • recurrent (came back after a remission)
    • inoperable (cannot be treated by surgery), or
    • unresectable (could not be entirely removed by surgery).
  • Your tumor is a squamous cell carcinoma of the anus that returned despite surgery.
  • Your colorectal cancer has spread beyond the lymph nodes closest to the original tumor.

What if My Colon or Rectal Cancer Doesn't Meet the Disability Listing?

If your cancer doesn't meet one of the requirements above (for instance, your tumor was successfully removed before it spread), there is another way to get disability benefits if you are unable to work. Social Security must look at your capacity to work with the limitations caused by your colorectal cancer or the treatment for it. This is called your "residual functional capacity, or RFC. For example, you may feel you are unable to work because you have extreme fatigue, unintentional weight loss, and a colostomy bag.

Social Security will use any limitations documented in your medical records to create an RFC for you, and then will use the RFC to determine whether you can do your old job, or any job, with your new limitations. For example, if you use a colostomy bag, your doctor may have limited you to lifting only 25 pounds regularly, which would limit you to "medium" work. If your prior job required heavy lifting, Social Security might agree that you can't return to your prior job.

Social Security would then look to see if your RFC prevents you from working any other job. In general, except for heavy lifting, Social Security will not consider having to wear a colostomy bag disabling. Social Security will look at your RFC, your prior job skills, your education level, and your age to see if there are any other jobs you could be trained to do within your restrictions. Social Security will consider any long-term side effects from chemotherapy or radiation, such as cognitive issues or memory problems—if these limitations appear in your medical records. For more information, see our article on getting disability through an RFC.

Standard Requirements for Disability

Social Security will review your file to see if you also meet its other requirements as well:

  • Your inability to work due to the colon or rectal cancer must be expected to last at least a year.
  • You can't be earning more than about $1,200 per month, and
  • You must qualify for a specific disability program:
    • You must have worked enough years to qualify for SSDI, or
    • You must fall under the income and asset limits for SSI.

Cancer of the Small Intestine

While cancer of the small intestine is the subject of a separate disability listing, the requirements for automatic approval for disability are almost exactly the same as for the large intestine. Likewise, Social Security would evaluate the residual functional capacity of someone with cancer of the small intestine in almost the same way as someone with cancer of the large intestine.

Learn more about the standard requirements for qualifying for disability benefits due to cancer.

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