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Can I get Disability for Lung Cancer? – Lawyer Advice

Appealing for benefits is best done under the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Lung Cancer?

Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the United States. Though the American Cancer Society predicts there will be 235,760 new cases of lung cancer this year, the number of new lung cancer cases continues to decrease as people quit smoking and due to early detection and treatment. If you are suffering from the effects of Lung Cancer you may qualify for disability benefits.


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If you have been diagnosed with a form of lung cancer, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

The lungs are two organs in the chest that take in oxygen when a person inhales and release carbon dioxide as a person exhales.

When a person breathes, air enters the mouth and nose and passes through the trachea, or windpipe, which is divided into tubes called bronchi. The bronchi divide into small branches called bronchioles, at the ends of which are tiny air sacs called alveoli. Alveoli absorb oxygen into the blood and remove carbon dioxide when a person exhales. Lung cancers usually start in the cells lining the bronchi, bronchioles and alveoli.


There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer or NSCLC and small cell lung cancer or SCLC.

Eighty to eighty-five percent of lung cancers are NSCLC. There are three subtypes of NSCLC lung cancer which are grouped together because treatment and prognosis is similar.

  •   Adenocarcinoma occurs mainly in people who smoked, but is also seen in non-smokers. Adenocarcinoma is found in the outer parts of the lung and more common in men than women. This cancer is also more likely to be detected before it spreads.
  •    Squamous cell carcinoma starts in the flat cells that line the inside of airways in lungs and is found in the central part of the lungs near a main airway.
  •    Large cell carcinoma can occur in any part of the lungs. It grows and spreads rapidly and is harder to treat.


Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from Lung Cancer. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!


Ten to fifteen percent of lung cancers are SCLC.

Sometimes called oat cell cancer, SCLC is very aggressive, growing and spreading faster than NSCLC. Usually beginning in the bronchi at the center of the chest, 70% of people with SCLC have cancer that has already spread when they are diagnosed. This cancer responds well to chemotherapy and radiation because it spreads quickly, but in most cases returns at some point. Cancers that begin in other parts of the body, such as the pancreas, skin, kidney and breast, can spread to the lungs, but these are not lung cancers.


Symptoms of lung cancer are usually not apparent in the disease’s early stages, typically occurring when the disease has reached an advanced stage.

Symptoms include:

  •    Shortness of breath;
  •   A cough that doesn’t go away;
  •   Chest pain;
  •   Coughing up blood
  •   Hoarseness;
  •   Bone pain;
  •   Weight loss;
  •   Headache.


Smoking is responsible for the majority of lung cancer cases in people who smoke and non-smokers who have been exposed to secondhand smoke.

When an individual inhales cigarette smoke, which is filled with carcinogens, the tissue in their lungs begins to change immediately. The body may be able to repair the damage at first, but if exposed repeatedly, healthy cells are progressively damaged. After a period of time, damaged cells begin to act abnormally and cancer develops. Lung cancer does occur in individuals who never smoked or were not exposed to secondhand smoke; in those cases, there may not be a clear cause.


Other risk factors include:

  •    Previous radiation therapy to the chest for another type of cancer;
  •   Exposure to asbestos or other carcinogens;
  •   Family history of lung cancer;
  •   Exposure to radon gas. (Radon is produced by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water that becomes part of the air and can accumulate in any building or home).


To diagnose lung cancer, a doctor will conduct imaging tests, including x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, as well as take a biopsy of lung tissue.

Analysis of cells will reveal the type of lung cancer and determine prognosis and treatment. Treatment is based on a patient’s overall health, the stage of cancer and the patient’s preferences.


Any of the following treatments, alone or in combination with other therapies, may be advised.

  •    Surgery to remove the lung cancer;
  •   Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells;
  •   Targeted drug therapy that focuses on specific abnormalities in cancer cells;
  •   Immunotherapy that uses the immune system to fight cancer;
  •   Stereotactic body radiotherapy, an intense radiation therapy.


Qualifying for Disability for Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is acknowledged as a disabling impairment in Social Security’s Blue Book under Section 13.14.


In order to be approved under this listing, an applicant must show evidence of the following:

  1.    Non-small-cell carcinoma that is inoperable, unresectable (not all of the cancer tissue was removed during surgery), recurrent, or spread to or beyond the hilar lymph nodes. The hilar lymph nodes are located where lymphatic vessels, arteries and veins enter the lungs.
    OR
  2.   Small-cell (also called oat cell) carcinoma.
  3. OR

  4.   Carcinoma of the superior sulcus (located at the apex of the lungs) that has undergone more than one type of treatment; for example, surgery and chemotherapy. This is also called a Pancoast tumor.


In order to qualify for Social Security Disability Income, an applicant should provide detailed medical evidence confirming a diagnosis of lung cancer, including:

  •    A doctor’s diagnosis that includes the results of a biopsy of a primary tumor(s);
  •   Pathology report(s) of tissue samples;
  •   Documentation of metastatic tumors; and
  •   Surgery reports and reports of tissue removed.


A simple diagnosis of a small cell carcinoma can automatically qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

SCLC is a compassionate allowance condition. Social Security will expedite the application for disability benefits, provided the diagnosis and medical records support the diagnosis and the applicant meets Social Security’s non-medical requirements. Severe cases of NSCLC are also considered compassionate allowance conditions.


If you have lung cancer, yet your disability does not match Social Security’s listing, you may still be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

Many people with lung cancer also have emphysema or chronic bronchitis. Applicants often have more than one illness or injury that prevents them from working full time. By itself lung cancer may not meet the requirements of the listing as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book, but if an applicant has multiple medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit an applicant’s ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks. Social Security will conduct a residual functional capacity assessment (RFC) to evaluate your abilities and limitations to determine if you are capable of performing your prior job or any other type of work. The SSA will consider your medical records and doctors’ statements of how symptoms limit your ability to function, as well as long-term side effects of cancer treatment.


Treatments for lung cancer are debilitating and unpleasant and can make it impossible for anyone to work.

If you have lung cancer and are unable to work, you may qualify for Social Security Disability income. You should file your claim as soon as possible and include all medical information available to avoid delay, especially written statements from your medical providers. Some compassionate allowance cases are denied because of a lack of medical evidence or an improperly submitted application. An experienced Social Security disability attorney can help you gather the proper information you need and avoid mistakes in filing your claim.


In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.

The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.

  1.   The Duration of Work test.   Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
  2.   The Current Work Test.   Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.

The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.

  1.   Are you working?   Your disability must be “total”.
  2.   Is your medical condition severe?    Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
  3.   Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments?   The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
  4.   Can you do the work you did before?   SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
  5.   Can you do any other type of work?   If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.


More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.


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Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.


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Attorney Lloyd BemisAuthor: Attorney Lloyd Bemis has been practicing law for over 35 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Bemis obtained dual board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lloyd is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Bemis is a member of the Travis County Bar Association. He has been active in the American Association for Justice and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Bemis and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.

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