Esophageal cancer is cancer of the esophagus, which most often occurs in the lower portion of the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. The two main types of esophageal cancer are adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Both qualify for disability benefits through Social Security.
There are typically no signs or symptoms of esophageal cancer in its early stages. When symptoms do begin to occur, they usually include:
Some people who have chronic heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can develop a condition called "Barrett's esophagus," where the esophageal lining becomes damaged and thickened. Barrett's esophagus can lead to adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, the most common type of esophageal cancer.
Because esophageal cancer is generally discovered in its later stages, the prognosis for those who are diagnosed with it is often poor.
Social Security is aware of the severity of esophageal cancer and makes it easier and faster to qualify for disability benefits based on esophageal cancer than for most other cancers and diseases.
Social Security's listings of impairments that automatically qualify an individual for disability benefits lists esophageal cancer under Section 13.16. To qualify for this listing, you must simply show that you have either carcinoma or sarcoma of the esophagus. The stage of the cancer doesn't matter.
As medical evidence of your diagnosis, Social Security requests documentation identifying the origin of malignancy and the areas the cancer has affected. The agency also wants to see information about the treatment you've had, including the duration, frequency, and response to treatment, and any residual impairments after treatment.
Operative notes and pathology reports from a biopsy of the esophageal cancer are most useful. A biopsy is often taken during an esophagoscopy/endoscopy, which is a camera sent down your throat to look for cancer, and an x-ray of the esophagus with a barium swallow is taken to clearly show the lining of your esophagus. While distant metastases are not necessary to be approved for disability, your doctor will probably do tests to see if the cancer has spread, such as a CT, PET, or bone scan.
The compassionate allowance program was created by Social Security to expedite applications for impairments that are severe and obviously meet disability standards. These applications are fast-tracked: Social Security aims to award benefits to those with compassionate allowances within 20 days of the application.
To qualify for a compassionate allowance for esophageal cancer, you must provide evidence that you meet the above medical listing. Social Security has recommended including a pathology report from a biopsy taken during esophagoscopy. Compassionate allowances will not be denied simply for lack of medical evidence, but it is beneficial to provide as much medical evidence as possible so that your decision is not delayed.
You should note "compassionate allowances" on your application. For more information, see our article on Compassionate Allowances.
Though esophageal cancer is very serious and cannot be cured, there are cases where an individual's esophageal cancer goes into remission. You can collect disability for as long as you are unable to work due to your cancer, but when your cancer goes into remission and there has been no evidence of cancer for three or more years, your disability benefits may stop.
In other words, if your esophageal cancer goes into remission, you are deemed to be disabled for up to three years after the start of your complete remission. And if your cancer reappears, the three-year time limit will not begin again until your cancer is back in remission.
Unfortunately, because esophageal cancer is often not caught until its later stages, the prognosis for survival may be poor. Someone who applies for SSI (a need-based disability benefit) will receive benefits right away, but for SSDI (Social Security disability), there is a five-month waiting period for benefits.
In the sad cases where claimants die of esophageal cancer before getting approved for benefits, family members can seek out the benefits that were owed to the individual by Social Security. In any of the following cases, family members are able to collect the disability benefits (in addition to survivors benefits):
For further information on the ability of family members to continue an open disability claim or start a new claim, see our article Disability Claims and Appeals After Death. Your dependents may be eligible for ongoing Social Security survivors benefits as well.