Do Lung Cancer Patients Qualify for Disability Benefits?

A lung cancer diagnosis can be physically, emotionally, and financially disabling, and many lung cancer patients need financial assistance to help them stay afloat financially. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federally run benefit program earned by people who have worked and paid Social Security taxes on their earnings. Depending on the type and severity of your lung cancer, you may qualify for SSDI benefits.

There are strict eligibility rules to qualify for SSDI, and a lung cancer diagnosis does not automatically mean you will be approved for these benefits. Only one type of lung cancer—small-cell lung cancer—qualifies an applicant for approval of SSDI benefits.

If you have another type of lung cancer, you must meet the definition of disability under the Social Security Act. Read on for more information on Social Security Disability benefits in regards to lung cancer, including eligibility requirements and how to apply.

An illustration about qualifying for social security disability insurance with lung cancer

Illustration by Laura Porter for Verywell Health

Who Qualifies for Cancer Disability?

To qualify for SSDI benefits with lung cancer, you must:

  • Have worked at jobs that were covered by Social Security
  • Have a medical condition that meets the strict definition of disability

This means that your condition must limit your ability to work for 12 months or more. If your lung cancer does not restrict your work-related activities, you will not qualify.

In addition to meeting the definition of disability, you must have worked long enough (and recently enough) under Social Security to qualify for SSDI benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses “work credits” to determine eligibility.

Work credits are based on your total yearly income, and people can earn up to four credits each year. The number of work credits you need to qualify for SSDI benefits depends on the age at which you were diagnosed with lung cancer. Most people need 40 work credits, 20 of which must be earned in the last 10 years. Younger workers may qualify for the benefits with fewer credits.

How Long Do Benefits Last?

If you qualify for SSDI, your benefits will continue until you can return to work on a regular basis. There are also work incentives that provide continued healthcare coverage and benefits to help make the transition back to work a little easier.

Compassionate Allowance Conditions

If your lung cancer diagnosis is serious enough to qualify for SSDI, you may have the option to have your application processed more quickly under the Compassionate Allowance Program. This initiative helps reduce wait times for those with the most serious disabilities so your benefits can begin as soon as possible.

To qualify for this program, you must meet one or more of these requirements:

  • The cancer has spread beyond its area of origin.
  • The cancer is inoperable (not able to be removed via surgery).
  • The cancer is recurrent (returns) despite treatment.

You do not need to take any extra steps to determine if you are eligible for this program. The SSA uses technology to easily identify claims of those who meet the standards for disability to make quick decisions.

Individuals with small cell lung cancer automatically qualify for the Compassionate Allowance Program.

How to Submit a Claim for Disability

You can apply for SSDI online, in person at your local Social Security office, or on the phone. No matter how you apply, the application process generally goes as follows: 

  • Gather the documents and information you need to apply: The Adult Disability Checklist on the SSA website provides a comprehensive list of required documents. Be prepared to provide thorough, accurate information about your family, employment history, finances, medical records, and education and job training.
  • Complete and submit your application.
  • Your application will be reviewed to make sure you meet the requirements.
  • Your work credits/employment requirements will be verified.
  • Your work activities will be evaluated.
  • Your application is processed and forwarded to the Disability Determination Services offices in your state.
  • The state agency makes the final decision on your eligibility. If your application is denied, you have the option to reapply or appeal the decision.

As you fill in your application, be sure to include all of your medical records. The SSA requires them to approve your disability claim for lung cancer. These records may include:

  • Biopsy results 
  • Imaging scans to show the location of the tumors and/or spread of the cancer
  • Details of your cancer treatments (e.g., types, how long/how often, and their effects)

You’ll also want to be sure to include contact information for all of your healthcare providers, including treatment facilities, hospitals, and doctors. Any missing information or gaps in your medical records may disqualify you from SSDI eligibility.

Other Sources of Financial Support

If your application for SSDI is denied, there are other options to receive financial assistance. Federal and state-run programs are available to assist with needs related to healthcare and basic living expenses if you meet the eligibility requirements.

There are also local and national nonprofit programs that may provide assistance to those who can demonstrate a need.

Visit the Cancer Care Sources of Financial Assistance page for more information.

Once your application has been reviewed and verified, you will receive a letter with the SSA’s decision. You can check the status of your application online by logging into your Social Security account, or by calling the SSA.

How Much Disability Will You Receive?

The amount of SSDI benefits you receive each month will be based on how long you worked and how much Social Security tax you have paid over the years. If your application is approved, you will begin receiving benefits deposited directly into your bank account six months from the onset of your lung cancer diagnosis.

Factors That Affect the SSDI Benefit You Receive

In 2022, the average SSDI benefit is $1,358 per month. Factors that influence the amount you receive include: 

  • Employment income
  • Whether you receive other disability benefits
  • Marital status
  • Number of dependents (children) 


Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federally run benefits program available to people who have worked long enough, paid into Social Security taxes, and have a qualifying disability, such as small-cell lung cancer. SSDI benefits are provided to replace lost income and help individuals with disabilities stay afloat financially. 

SSDI eligibility requirements are strict, and a lung cancer diagnosis is not guaranteed approval to receive the benefits. You can apply for SSDI benefits online, on the phone, or at your nearest Social Security Administration office. It’s important to provide thorough, detailed information about your lung cancer diagnosis, medical history, employment history, and family details for your application to be reviewed and approved.

A Word From Verywell 

A lung cancer diagnosis and associated treatments and medical care can be financially devastating to many people. SSDI benefits provide monthly payouts to people with certain types of cancer. If you can no longer work due to your lung cancer diagnosis, the SSDI program is there to help relieve some of the financial burden related to lost income.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do I qualify for disability if I have cancer?

    You may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits if you have a cancer diagnosis. Your eligibility depends on the type of cancer you have and the stage it is in. People with certain forms of cancer, such as small-cell lung cancer, automatically qualify for SSDI benefits.

  • What is the monthly payout for Social Security Disability?

    In 2022, the average SSDI benefit is $1,358 a month. You may receive more or less than this amount, depending on your average employment income, marital status, and whether you have dependents. The severity of your disability does not have any bearing on the amount you are paid each month.

  • What factors affect how much SSDI money you get?

    Factors that influence the amount of SSDI benefits paid to you each month include your employment income, marital status, number of dependents, and whether you receive other disability benefits.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Social Security Administration. Disability benefits.

  2. Social Security Administration. Small cell lung cancer.

  3. Social Security Administration. Facts.

  4. Social Security Administration. How you qualify.

  5. Social Security Administration. Compassionate allowances.

  6. American Cancer Society. Social Security Disability insurance for people with cancer.

  7. Social Security Administration. 2022 Social Security changes.