Disability Benefits for Colon or Rectal Cancer

Social Security has specific criteria you must meet for your colon cancer to qualify for benefits.

By , Contributing Author
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Cancer can develop in both the small and large intestine, and can lead to functional limitations and disability, either from surgery, chemotherapy, or a colostomy.

Cancer of the large intestine is called colorectal cancer, or colon cancer. Colorectal cancer occurs in the lower part of the digestive tract down to the rectum and anus. Colon cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in both men and women. People who develop polyps are more prone to developing colorectal cancer.

Cancer of the small intestine is rare, and although the exact cause is unknown, people with polyps, Crohn's disease, and celiac disease seem to be more susceptible to cancer of the small intestine.

Symptoms and Treatment of Intestinal Cancer

Symptoms of colorectal and small intestine cancer include unintentional weight loss, a change in bowel habits, fatigue, and blood in the stool. Occasionally cancer in the small intestine will cause a palpable lump in the abdomen.

The most common treatment for these types of cancers is surgery; however, other therapies such as chemo and radiation are used as well.

Can I Get Disability for My Intestinal Cancer?

When you first apply for disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will check to see if you are earning more than about $1,500 per month, in which case you won't be eligible for disability. In addition, your disability from the colon or rectal cancer must be expected to last at least 12 months, and it must cause more than a minimal impact on your ability to work. If you do not meet these basic requirements, the SSA will deny your claim. If you do satisfy the requirements, the SSA will then look at your illness to see if it meets one of the conditions discussed in the SSA's Listing of Impairments. If your colon or rectal cancer, or small intestine cancer, meets the requirements of one of the digestive disability listings, you will be automatically approved for disability.

Can I Get Automatic Approval for My Intestinal Cancer?

If you suffer from cancer of either the small or large intestine, you may be eligible for automatic approval of your disability claim because both are qualifying conditions under the SSA's disability listings.

Colon or Rectal Cancer Listing

If your cancer is located in the large intestine, which includes colon cancer, rectal cancer, and anal cancer, you can qualify for disability automatically if you fit one of the following:

  • You have been diagnosed with adenocarcinoma (a cancer that forms in the lining of the intestine and makes secretions similar to glands) that:
    • cannot be treated by surgery
    • could not all be removed by surgery, or
    • returned after an earlier remission.
  • You have been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the anus that returns after surgery.
  • You have been diagnosed with cancer of the large intestines (colon, rectal, or anal cancer) that spreads to lymph nodes beyond those that surround your tumor.

Small Intestine Cancer

If your cancer is located in the small intestine, you can qualify for disability benefits automatically if:

  • Surgery cannot be performed to treat your small intestine cancer.
  • Surgery did not remove all the cancer in your small intestines.
  • Your small intestine cancer returns after an earlier remission, or
  • Your small intestine cancer spreads to lymph nodes beyond those that surround your tumor.

The listing requirements for cancer of the small and large intestines are complicated; you should review the criteria with your oncologist or treating physician to see if you qualify under the SSA's listings. To learn more about the requirements regarding inoperable, unresectable, recurrent, or metastasized tumors, see our article on when cancer qualifies for disability benefits.

What if My Intestinal Cancer Doesn't Meet the Listing?

Even though you suffer from intestinal cancer, you may not meet the SSA's listing requirements for large or small intestines cancer. This can happen in applicants whose colon cancer was successfully treated by the removal of their colon. Although these patients must use a colostomy, the SSA does not consider an uncomplicated colostomy to be a disability, because most people with a colostomy can continue their normal activities once they have healed from surgery.

If your intestinal cancer does not meet or equal a listing, and you are still unable to work, the SSA must decide if you can still do your old job with the functional limitations caused by your cancer or your colostomy. For example, if you wear a colostomy bag, you must avoid strenuous lifting or carrying because you could herniate your stoma (the place where the colostomy bag is connected to the body). You may also have environmental restrictions that require you to avoid heat, humidity, or vibration to avoid breaking the seal on your colostomy bag. These restrictions would make it hard for you to perform some jobs.

If the SSA feels you can still do your old job, you will be denied; otherwise, the SSA must determine if there is other work you can do. To make this decision, the SSA will look at your age, education, past work experience, and the effects of your intestinal cancer on your ability to do work-related activities.

Medical Evidence to Prove Your Disability

It is important that the SSA has access to all the medical records that relate to your intestinal cancer so that the agency knows what your functional limitations are. This means your medical record should include your blood work, biopsies, hospital and pharmacy records, MRI and CT scan results, and doctors' reports. You should provide the SSA with a Residual Functional Capacity assessment (RFC) prepared by your treating doctor. An RFC is a detailed evaluation of how your ability to work is affected by your disease.

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