For cancer patients, the battle against this formidable disease involves not just physical and emotional challenges, but also significant financial concerns. When the impact of cancer on a patient’s ability to work becomes substantial, disability insurance can be a vital lifeline. Securing cancer disability insurance benefits, either short-term or long-term disability benefits, becomes essential when the illness impairs one’s ability to work, providing a vital financial buffer. However, navigating the disability claims process can be daunting, with intricate requirements and frequent denials causing additional distress.

Moreover, the chemotherapy and radiation treatments necessary to beat cancer can often cause ongoing disability, even after the patient is cancer-free. In this blog post, we will explore important considerations for cancer patients and cancer survivors applying for short-term or long-term disability benefits, common reasons for claim denials for disability due to cancer, and effective strategies to maximize your chances of approval for cancer-related disability.

Understanding Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Benefits 

Short-term disability benefits typically provide income replacement for a limited period (e.g., a few weeks to six months) when a cancer patient is unable to work due to treatment or recovery. Long-term disability benefits, on the other hand, offer extended coverage that may last until retirement age if the patient’s cancer substantially impairs their ability to work beyond the short-term period.

Learn About  Our Long Term Disability Representation Services

Knowing the ins and outs of your disability insurance for cancer can make a significant difference in the claims process. These policies, offered by employers or private insurers, have specific criteria for what constitutes “disability,” especially concerning cancer diagnoses and the associated treatments.

Obtain and Review Your Disability Policies

The process of applying for disability benefits can be intricate and poses potential pitfalls for cancer patients. To navigate the process effectively, patients should obtain their short-term and long-term disability policies from their employer immediately upon receiving a cancer diagnosis. Next, patients should review those documents in consultation with their doctors and, if possible, a lawyer, to ensure that their disability leave aligns with their treatment plan.

Most disability policies require that the claimant to be “actively at work” when the disability occurs. Therefore, if an employee takes disability leave right after receiving their cancer diagnosis, but before the cancer becomes disabling, they may be taking leave prematurely. Most disability insurers generally consider a claimant disabled when they are actively undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment, but not necessarily before that stage.

In addition, if you have been covered under the disability policy for less than one year (or another time frame specified by the policy), be aware that your disability claim may be subject to a pre-existing condition exclusion if, for example, you received treatment for cancer during the lookback period that preceded coverage.

Obtain Comprehensive Medical Documentation

Medical records are the foundation of a disability claim due to cancer. Cancer patients should ensure they have detailed and up-to-date documentation from their treating physicians. This should include information on the diagnosis, treatment plan, medications, limitations on physical or mental abilities, and expected duration of the disability.

Meeting the Definition of Disability

Short-term and long-term disability policies may have varying definitions of disability. Some policies may require that the cancer patient is unable to perform any work, while others may focus on their inability to perform the duties of their specific job. Ensure the disability claim aligns with the policy’s definition.

Providing Detailed Job Descriptions

When filing for disability benefits, cancer patients should provide comprehensive job descriptions and explain how their condition prevents them from fulfilling their work duties.. The more detailed and accurate the description, the stronger the claim’s foundation.

Addressing Common Reasons for Claim Denials

Insufficient Medical Evidence: Inadequate medical documentation is one of the leading reasons for claim denials. Cancer patients should work closely with their healthcare providers to obtain comprehensive records that clearly illustrate the severity of their condition.

Failure to Follow Treatment Plans: Insurance companies may deny claims if they believe the patient is not actively participating in recommended treatments. It is essential for cancer patients to adhere to their treatment plans and provide evidence of their compliance.

Timely Submission: Missing deadlines for claim submission or appeals can result in denial. Create a timeline for paperwork submission to ensure all documents reach the insurer within specified timeframes.

Pre-existing Conditions: If the cancer diagnosis was made before the disability policy’s effective date, the claim may be denied due to pre-existing condition exclusions. However, exceptions may apply, so consulting with an attorney can be beneficial.

Lack of Occupational Support: The insurance company may deny the claim if it believes there are other suitable job options available for the patient, even with their cancer diagnosis. Providing evidence of occupational limitations can help address this issue.

Related Article: Can My Insurance Company Deny Coverage for Cancer Treatment?

Claim Denials Once a Claimant Is Cancer-Free

Cancer treatments have come a long way in recent decades, offering greater chances of survival and remission for many patients. However, while these treatments are often life-saving, they can also lead to a range of physical and psychological disabilities that persist long after the patient has been declared cancer-free. Regrettably, many disability insurers often wrongly assume that once a patient is cancer-free, they are no longer disabled, when the reality is quite the opposite. Here are some of the ways in which disability can continue to affect individuals even after their cancer is eliminated:

Neuropathy: Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a common side effect of many chemotherapy drugs. It can result in numbness, tingling, and pain in the hands and feet, making daily tasks like buttoning a shirt or walking difficult. For some patients, CIPN can become a chronic condition that impacts their quality of life even after cancer is gone.

Lymphedema: Lymphedema is another physical disability that can result from cancer treatment, especially when lymph nodes are removed or damaged during surgery or radiation. This condition involves the accumulation of lymphatic fluid, causing painful swelling in the limbs. Lymphedema management often requires lifelong care, including compression garments and regular therapy.

Cognitive Impairments: Chemobrain, or chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment, is a term used to describe the cognitive challenges that some cancer survivors experience. It can manifest as difficulties with memory, concentration, and multitasking. These cognitive impairments can persist long after the completion of treatment, affecting a patient’s ability to work, study, and lead a normal life.

Fatigue: Cancer-related fatigue is a pervasive issue that lingers in the lives of many survivors. This type of fatigue is distinct from ordinary tiredness and can persist for months or even years after treatment ends. The exact causes are not fully understood, but it can significantly impact a person’s ability to function in daily life.

Emotional and Psychological Challenges: The emotional and psychological toll of cancer treatment can be profound. Many survivors experience anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The fear of cancer recurrence can be paralyzing, and the emotional scars from the journey can persist even after physical recovery.

Consultation With Legal Professionals

Navigating the complexities of disability benefit claims can be overwhelming, especially for cancer patients focused on their health and well-being. Seeking guidance from experienced disability attorneys can help claimants understand their rights, ensure all documentation is in order, and increase the likelihood of a successful claim.


For cancer patients, short-term or long-term disability benefits can provide crucial financial support during times of treatment and recovery when working becomes difficult or impossible. To maximize approval chances, patients must understand their employer’s disability policies, provide comprehensive medical documentation, and address common reasons for claim denials. By taking a proactive approach and seeking professional guidance, cancer patients can increase their likelihood of receiving the disability benefits they need to focus on their health and well-being without added financial stress. Remember, during these challenging times, support from both medical professionals and legal experts can make all the difference in securing the benefits you deserve.

Related Articles

ERISA 2023 Year in Review

ERISA 2023 Year in Review

Introduction The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) [1] directly impacts the lives of most Americans, yet few are familiar with ERISA despite its governance of pensions and retirement plans, along with other employer provided fringe benefits such...

Verizon Benefits Ruling Clears up Lien Burden of Proof

Verizon Benefits Ruling Clears up Lien Burden of Proof

On Jan. 29, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island recently wrote an opinion in a sort of "man bites dog" Employee Retirement Income Security Act case, Verizon Sickness & Accident Disability Benefit Plan v. Rogers.[1] Rather than the...

Reservation of Rights: Disability Insurance Claimant Guide

Reservation of Rights: Disability Insurance Claimant Guide

Applicants for disability insurance can often receive a mystifying response to their claim for benefits, an approval under a “reservation of rights.” After submitting a claim and providing a treating doctor’s certification of disability along with other medical evidence supporting a favorable claim determination, the expectation is that the claim will be approved. […]