Ovarian Cancer and Social Security Disability

April 30, 2015

Written by guest blogger Deanna Power

An ovarian cancer diagnosis is hard to accept, and is hard physically, emotionally, and financially to deal with. Ovarian cancer affects women of all ages, and is often diagnosed at a late stage. Because of this, many women with ovarian cancer need aggressive forms of treatment and are unable to continue working. The costs for the different types of treatment required for ovarian cancer can add up quickly, including a hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and other drug and hospital charges. Without insurance, these costs can quickly rise to over $200,000. Although many insurance plans cover ovarian cancer treatments, they do not cover all drugs or treatments available. Due to the hardships thousands of women face every year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers disability benefits for hundreds of conditions, including ovarian cancer.

How to Medically Qualify with Ovarian Cancer

The SSA evaluates all applicants with a medical guide called the Blue Book, which has listings for various conditions, symptoms, and disability benefit qualifications. An ovarian cancer diagnosis is listed under  section 13.23E  of the Blue Book. This includes all tumors except germ-cell tumors, with tumor extension beyond the pelvis (i.e. peritoneal, omental, or bowel surfaces), metastases to or beyond the regional lymph nodes, and/or recurrent following initial antineoplastic therapy or germ-cell tumors that are progressive or recurrent following initial antineoplastic therapy.

More severe forms of ovarian cancer that also have distant metastases or are inoperable (a physician’s opinion that surgery will not be beneficial) or unresectable (the cancer is still present after surgery). If your ovarian cancer has progressed this far, it is listed on the SSA’s Compassionate Allowances List (CAL). The CAL is a list of conditions that are eligible for almost immediate approval, because the symptoms are so serious that patients can’t wait the one to two years of a normal SSD approval. Applicants with inoperable ovarian cancer or distant metastases can expect to be approved in as little as 10 days.

Types of Social Security Disability Benefits Available

The SSA offers two types of disability benefits for women with ovarian cancer. The first form of benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), is based on how long you’ve worked, how much you’ve paid into Social Security in taxes, and your previous income. Those over the age of 31 generally need to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for any five of the last ten years before applying. CAL approvals often happen in just a few weeks, but a typical SSDI application can take up to two years for an approval. Whether or not your ovarian cancer is approved under CAL, you need to wait five months after the onset date for monthly payments to start. If decisions on claims take longer than five months, you would be paid through a lump-sum check for those missed months upon approval. After being approved for SSDI, you will automatically be approved for Medicare two years after you start receiving benefits.

The second type of disability benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), is an income supplement funded by general federal tax revenue instead of Social Security taxes. SSI has strict financial limits, but no required work history. Because of this, it is the best option for adults with low resources or who haven’t worked throughout their lives. SSI benefits can start being paid to a woman with ovarian cancer the first month after applying, so long as she financially qualifies. A single applicant’s countable income must be less than $733 per month, with less than $2,000 in assets (stocks, bonds, life insurance, etc.). A couple can’t make more than $1,100 of countable income per month and must have less than $3,000 in assets. The SSA will not include one house, one car, or other personal items such as wedding ring when evaluating an applicant’s assets. SSI recipients in most states are eligible to receive Medicaid.

Applying for Social Security Disability

To apply for disability benefits with ovarian cancer, you will need a birth certificate, tax information, thorough medical information and other documents. It is important to include as much thorough medical evidence as possible for ovarian cancer applications, including medical records, lab results, and written statements from your physicians. The amount of time that it takes for the SSA to come a decision on your claim depends primarily on how quickly they can get medical evidence from your doctor and whether another medical exam is necessary for approval.

For a complete checklist on what you’ll need to apply for disability benefits, review the Adult Disability Starter Kit  on the SSA’s website. SSDI applications can be completed online, but SSI applications must be completed in person, so be sure to make an appointment with your local SSA office.

If you have already applied for disability benefits for ovarian cancer and your application was denied, you can appeal the decision. If you were denied for medical reasons, you can fill out  the Appeal Request and Appeal Disability Report or contact your local Social Security office in person or 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 for TTY.


Deanna Power is the Community Outreach Manager at Social Security Disability Help. She assists people with disabilities with the application process for Social Security benefits, from initially submitting paperwork to keeping benefits after approval. She has been featured on numerous disability resources such TASH.org and NDSS.org. She lives in Boston, MA with her hamster.


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