Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits for Colorectal Cancer Patients


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south-carolina-capitol-bldg If you have recently been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the last thing on your mind may be applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Your time and energy are precious right now. However, after you have selected your doctors and determined a treatment plan, take a close look at SSDI. Monthly disability benefits may get you through a rough financial time while you take a break from full-time work and focus on your health.

The Social Security Disability Insurance Application Process

The quickest way to apply for social security disability benefits is using the online application form found on the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA’s”) website. However, make certain that you are actually on the SSA’s website ( and not an “imposter” website. These imposter websites look like the SSA website, but are actually for-profit companies attempting to make money filing your application for you. If you are unable or do not wish to complete the form online, you can call the SSA to make an appointment to file your application in-person or by phone (1-800-772-1213).

The form

The application form will ask information about the names and contact information for your doctors and hospitals, your treatment, the stage of the colorectal cancer, your education, and a summary of where you worked and the kind of work you performed. Completing the application can appear overwhelming at first. It may take an hour or two to finish the entire application. Complete the application to the best of your ability—you may not remember precise dates of treatment or the exact names of your medications. That is okay. It is better to submit an imperfect application as soon as you believe you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance than to submit one later, or not at all.

Your local office

Once your application is submitted, your local SSA field office will obtain your medical records and will contact you if there is anything missing or incomplete on your application form.

How does SSA make its Determination of Disability?

The law defines disability as “the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” What does this mean for colorectal cancer patients in plain English?

Unable to Work

First, you must be unable to work because of the colorectal cancer OR, if you are working, you must be earning less than $1070 per month to qualify for benefits.

Result in your Death or Last for One Year

Second, the colorectal cancer (or its disabling symptoms/effects) must likely result in your death or last for one year. To make this determination of disability, the SSA will look to the nature of the colorectal cancer. You will be considered disabled if:
  • The cancer is inoperable, unresectable or recurrent; or
  • There is metastases beyond the regional lymph nodes (Stage IV); or
  • The cancer is squamous cell carcinoma of the anus, recurrent after surgery.
The types of colorectal cancer listed here are the most serious form of the disease, and will often result in a determination by the SSA within 30 days.

If you don't meet the criteria

If the colorectal cancer does not meet the above criteria, you may still be eligible for disability benefits. The SSA will consider the type of colorectal cancer and its location, the extent of involvement of the cancer when you were first diagnosed and your symptoms. Thus, it is important to list on your application all of the symptoms and effects of your colorectal cancer and treatment, including issues with depression and anxiety, bowel issues, fatigue, anemia, neuropathy, etc.

The Disability Determination

If you are granted social security disability benefits, the SSA will notify you by letter and inform you of the amount of your benefits. The monthly benefit will not begin for five months after the establishment of the onset of your disability. At that time, you monthly benefit will be directly deposited in your bank account.


If you are not granted disability benefits and you disagree with the determination, you may appeal that decision. The first appeal is called a reconsideration, which is reviewed by a team not involved in the original determination. If you are dissatisfied with this determination, you may request a hearing before an administrative law judge. You may submit additional information supporting your claim for benefits during both appeal processes.

For More Information about Social Security Disability Insurance

You may have other questions and issues specific to your situation. A SSA claims representative may be able to assist with those questions, or you may wish to consult an attorney knowledgeable about the SSDI laws. Organizations in a number of states provide pro bono legal services for cancer patients. You can determine if there is such a program in your state by going to Triage Cancer's National Cancer Legal Services Network. Chris-stage-IV-colon-cancer-advocateChris Heffelbower,J.D., fought stage IV colon cancer and dedicated herself to advocating for cancer patients. She served as a member of the Fight CRC Grassroots Action Committee and was a Senior Staff Attorney at the nonprofit Cancer Legal Line in St. Paul, Minnesota. The information in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship.