Getting a cancer diagnosis is an incredibly stressful, difficult, and devastating experience. While doctors are learning more about cancer and mortality for most forms of cancer is dropping, you may have a hard time understanding your outlook and options while you fight the disease.
On top of that, the process of getting long-term disability benefits for cancer is much more complicated than you might expect. Cancer is not necessarily disabling (although cancer treatments often are), and your benefits may be contingent on what stage your cancer is in, how it is affecting your daily life, and other stipulations in your specific long-term disability insurance policy.
The best way to ease the stress of trying to receive disability for cancer is to get informed. In this article, we will explain how cancer diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment can impact your long-term disability insurance claim.
Please note that this article focuses on long-term disability policies provided through your employer or private insurance company, not Social Security Disability Insurance. Bryant Legal Group generally does not handle standalone Social Security cases.
What Is Cancer?
Cancer is not a single disease. Instead, it is a category of more than 100 diseases.
When you have cancer, a mutation in your DNA encourages your cells to grow out of control. These mutated cells can choke out healthy ones and cause life-threatening problems. Some of the most common types of cancer include skin, breast, prostate, colorectal, and lung cancer.
While cancer can still be fatal, medical specialists have made significant research advances over the past several decades. Between 1991 and 2016, overall cancer mortality rates dropped by a remarkable 27%. However, cancer patients and survivors still frequently undergo intense treatment, including surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and androgen deprivation therapy —all of which can limit their ability to work and perform daily activities.
- RELATED ARTICLE: Do You Know the Deadline for Filing Your ERISA Claim?
Do I Qualify for Disability Insurance After a Cancer Diagnosis?
Not every cancer patient is disabled. In fact, many people continue to work during their fight against cancer. However, cancer and its treatment can also cause debilitating symptoms that may make it impossible to work.
The strength of your cancer disability claim may depend on a series of factors, including:
- Your type of cancer and its stage
- The location and size of your tumors
- Your treatment options, treatment side effects, and response to treatment
- Whether the cancer is slow-growing or aggressive
- Whether your cancer spreads to other body parts (metastasizes)
- How your insurance policy defines disability (own occupation vs any occupation)
Throughout your fight with cancer, you should stay in close contact with your physicians and care providers. If you are struggling with your daily tasks at work and at home due to fatigue, nausea, weakness, or other symptoms, it is time to talk candidly with your doctor about disability.
Stages of Cancer and Long-Term Disability
Cancer is usually classified into one of four to five stages, from stage 0 or 1 (least severe) to stage 4 (most severe).
- Stage 0: Abnormal cells exist only at the point of origin, in their normal place. Also known as carcinoma in situ.
- Stage 1: Cancer cells are growing but still localized in one area of the body. Often these cancers can be surgically removed.
- Stage 2: The cancer cells have started to grow into surrounding tissues, potentially including regional lymph nodes.
- Stage 3: A more advanced form of stage 2. There now may be multiple tumors, and the cancer has likely spread to other tissues or your lymph nodes, but is still mostly confined to a particular region of the body.
- Stage 4: The disease has now spread to other, more distant areas of the body.
The stage of your illness often plays a significant role in whether the insurance company is likely to approve your long-term disability claim.
Benefits are rarely approved for stage 0 or 1 cancers. But at stage 2 and 3, your chances of getting approved for LTD benefits improve significantly, particularly if your illness or side effects of treatment are causing severe symptoms like pain, nausea, or persistent fatigue.
Most people with stage 4 cancer experience significant symptoms (from the illness itself, treatment, or both) and should qualify for long-term disability benefits.
However, simply having a stage 2, 3, or even 4 cancer diagnosis will not automatically guarantee a successful LTD claim. The core question that must be answered is whether you are still able to work. Successful LTD claims will still require a significant amount of strong, supporting evidence.
Can I Get Long-Term Disability Benefits for My Cancer Treatment Side Effects?
Common side effects vary depending on your treatment protocol, but they may include:
- Chemotherapy: Fatigue, increased risk of infection, nausea, diarrhea, nerve damage, concentration and memory problems, weight changes, easy bruising, hair loss.
- Radiation therapy: Fatigue, radiation dermatitis, decreased white blood cell and platelet counts, nausea, mouth sores, weight loss, hair loss.
- Immunotherapy: Pain, flu-like symptoms, muscle aches and soreness, swelling and weight gain, increased risk of infection, heart palpitations, skin rashes.
- Bone marrow transplants: Mouth and throat pain, nausea, diarrhea, serious infections (especially in the first 6 weeks, but potentially up to six months or longer).
- Surgery: Tissue damage, blood clots, slow recovery, pain.
- Androgen Deprivation Therapy: Osteoporosis (bone thinning), decreased mental sharpness, loss of muscle mass, weight gain, fatigue, depression.
Cancer treatment can involve profound, negative side effects. If you cannot work because of cancer treatment side effects, you may be eligible for disability insurance benefits. Many of these treatment options can also increase your chances of developing other conditions such as lymphedema, which can further complicate your recovery.
Finally, there is the emotional toll of a cancer diagnosis. Cancer patients suffer from depression and anxiety more frequently than the general population; about 15 to 25% of all people fighting cancer experience these mental health conditions. If you are struggling with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or panic, talk to your doctors. They can help you get the care you need and document your cancer-related mental health issues, which may strengthen your disability insurance claim.
However, if you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, do not wait for an appointment. Instead, go to the closest ER, call 911, or contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or online.
- RELATED ARTICLE: Depression, Anxiety, and Disability Insurance: A Claimant’s Guide
How Can I Strengthen My Cancer Disability Claim?
You might think that cancer cases would be easy approvals for the insurance company, but unfortunately that is not always the case. On the contrary: many insurers will scrutinize cancer-related long-term disability claims closely. They will not hesitate to reject claims if they believe someone’s symptoms are not disabling and they are able to work—even when policyholders are seriously or even terminally ill.
If you want to file a successful LTD claim, you will need to collect as much information about your diagnosis, treatment protocols, and symptoms as possible. To improve your likelihood of success, you should:
- List your exact diagnosis and cancer stage in your disability application.
- Openly and honestly discuss your symptoms and limitations with your doctors.
- Provide all your medical records to the insurance company, including imaging studies, biopsy results, and treatment recommendations.
- Update your disability insurance lawyer or the claims adjuster if your cancer worsens, spreads, or does not respond to treatment.
- Gather personal statements from colleagues, friends, or loved ones.
- Keep a daily journal recording the physical and cognitive symptoms you are experiencing and how they are affecting your day-to-day life.
- Discuss your claim with an experienced disability lawyer at Bryant Legal Group
How an Experienced Disability Lawyer Can Help
Nothing is more frustrating than dealing with an unfair claim denial while you are struggling with disabling symptoms and worried about your long-term future.
A disability lawyer can handle your claim and give you the best possible chance at a successful approval or appeal. When we handle a claim, our disability insurance lawyers handle all the details of the case.
- Carefully reviewing your insurance policy’s terms and conditions with you to determine whether you have a valid disability case.
- Communicating with your doctors and other specialists and helping you gather treatment notes, physician letters, and other medical evidence that can strengthen your claim.
- Identifying any other diagnostic tests or evaluations that could potentially help you solidify your case.
- Looking for additional evidence to supplement the record and help the insurance company understand how your illness or treatment affects your daily life and ability to work (for example, consulting with expert witnesses or asking colleagues, friends, and loved ones to provide a personal statement.)
This gives you time and space to focus on your health. We also value client education, and we will carefully walk you through your legal options, so you never feel confused or in the dark about the status of your claim.
- RELATED ARTICLE: When Should I Speak with a Disability Insurance Lawyer?
Bryant Legal Group: Fighting for Disabled Cancer Patients and Cancer Survivors
At Bryant Legal Group, our mission is to empower disabled individuals throughout the disability insurance process. Our experienced long-term disability lawyers are detail-oriented, use sophisticated legal strategies, and always focus on our clients’ best interests.
To learn more about our approach to disability law and find out how our law firm can help you, contact us for a free consultation by filling out our quick and convenient online contact form or calling us at 312-626-9316.