Getting Social Security Disability for Liver Cancer

A diagnosis of liver cancer almost always guarantees Social Security disability benefits.

By , J.D., University of Missouri School of Law

Social Security's Compassionate Allowances program allows for expedited approval on disability applications for those who have been diagnosed with liver cancer. Instead of waiting the typical year (or more) to be awarded benefits, individuals with liver cancer may be approved in as little as two to three weeks. In addition, Social Security often designates claims based on liver cancer as TERI (Terminal Illness) cases, which also allows for expedited payment of benefits.

Disabiling Symptoms of Liver Cancer

Liver cancer appears on the Compassionate Allowances and TERI lists due to the severe symptoms and poor prognosis associated with the disease. The symptoms of liver cancer are many and include abdominal pain and swelling, shoulder and back pain, bloating, nausea, weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, and jaundice. Generally the symptoms of liver cancer lie dormant during the early stages of the disease, only manifesting themselves after the point where treatment can cure the disease.

The most common form of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, originates in the tissues of the liver and usually occurs as a result of hepatitis B or C or cirrhosis of the liver. Secondary liver cancer is cancer that has metastasized (spread) from another part of the body into the liver. Both primary and secondary forms of liver cancer are life-threatening unless caught early.

Proving Your Disability Case Based on Liver Cancer

As with any disability claim, SSA requires that your illness and resulting symptoms are documented with medical evidence. In particular, Social Security will look for the following in claims based on liver cancer:

  • a pathology report indicating the presence of liver cancer in a biopsy specimen
  • an MRI or CT scan showing liver abnormalities consistent with liver cancer, in addition to elevated alpha-feto protein
  • clinic notes from a primary care physician, hepatologist, or oncologist indicating the presence of liver cancer and associated symptoms, and
  • blood work or other imaging studies consistent with liver cancer.

If your file contains the evidence above, your condition will likely meet Social Security's disability listing (listing 13.19) for liver cancer.

In the unlikely event that your condition does not meet Listing 13.19 for liver cancer—which really only occurs when there is some uncertainty regarding your diagnosis or if you have undergone successful treatment—it is still possible that you will be award benefits based on a Medical-Vocational Allowance. In general, if the combination of your age, educational level, strength rating, and Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) prevents you from performing any full-time work in the national economy, SSA will find you disabled.

In addition to the objective findings contained in your medical records, Social Security will also give weight to the opinions of your treating physicians as long as they are backed up by medical evidence and not inconsistent with other evidence. If possible, obtain an opinion from your doctor regarding any work-related limitations you experience as a result of your illness, especially those involving sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, reaching, bending, and stooping. Your doctor should also note if you experience pain that would impact your ability to concentrate during the workday, or if you would require rest or regular breaks that would interfere with your ability to work.

When completing your application for disability benefits (and testifying at your hearing, if you have one), don't forget to allege any symptoms resulting from chemotherapy, surgery, or any other treatment that is impacting your ability to work. For example, immuno-suppressant drugs following a liver transplant can cause side effects including weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, and tremors, as well as increased risk of infection.

A medical source statement is especially important if, for whatever reason, Social Security decides that your case does not meet the Compassionate Allowances or TERI criteria, or if your claim has been denied at the initial level. If you do get denied, consider hiring a disability attorney to handle your disability case. Your lawyer will interact with your physician to obtain the most persuasive evidence possible of disability, in addition to gathering your medical records, preparing you for your hearing, and representing you in front of the Administrative Law Judge.

Contact a Disability Attorney

For individuals diagnosed with liver cancer, a quick approval of disability benefits is vital. A disability attorney can help navigate the disability process for you and make sure that you meet all necessary deadlines. Even if it seems that your evidence of disability is overwhelming, it's still a good idea to hire an attorney. If you receive an expedited approval, the fee for your attorney is likely to be minimal or nothing at all. That is because most attorneys charge 25% of your past-due benefits, and expedited approvals often generate no past-due benefits because they are paid out so quickly.

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