Social Security Disability Income for Cancer Patients

What is Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)?

Social Security disability Income (SSDI) is a federal disability insurance benefit earned by people who have worked and paid into Social Security. It’s only available to people who have disabilities that keep them from working. If you have cancer, you may be able to have your SSDI application processed more quickly

Who can get (qualify for) SSDI?

  • People who have worked for a number of years and had enough money taken out of their paychecks for Social Security (FICA)
  • Self-employed people who paid self-employment taxes
  • You must meet Social Security’s very strict definition of disability in order to qualify for SSDI.
  • Having a low income or financial needs do not affect whether you can get SSDI.
  • If you get turned down for SSDI, reapply, and appeal if necessary. Many cases end up being approved after an appeal.
  • The amount you get from SSDI will be based on how long you worked, and how much Social Security tax (also called FICA) was taken from your pay.
  • Once you apply for SSDI, the disability clock starts running. If your disability application is approved, you become eligible for Medicare after 24 months.

If you qualify and start getting SSDI, your spouse and any eligible children can also apply for SSDI.

If you find you don’t qualify for SSDI, but you are low-income and disabled, look into Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This program also can pay benefits to the disabled, but is based on your income and need.

When would Social Security Disability Income start?

  • Don’t count on SSDI for the financial needs you have right now. Even if your claim is approved, benefits don’t begin until the sixth full month of disability. This means you have at least a 5-month waiting period after you’re disabled.
  • The approval process can take a long time. It may take many months – or even a year or more if it’s appealed – before a decision is reached.
  • If you have certain serious illnesses, including some types of cancer, it may take less time to be approved. The Social Security Administration can speed up their review of disability applications for people who have a diagnosis that’s on their “Compassionate Allowances” list. You can find this list online at

How can I find out more about Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)?

To learn more about SSDI:

  • Visit online – choose “disability,” then select “publications”
  • Go to your nearest Social Security office
  • Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Have your Social Security number handy.

You can find out how much you would get from SSDI by looking at your Social Security statement. The statement shows your work history and an estimate of what your benefits would be at this time.

To get a Social Security statement

  • Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for Form SSA-7005, the Request for Social Security Statement. Complete the form and return it to the Social Security Administration.
  • Request a statement online through Social Security’s website at Click on “My Social Security” on the left side of the page.

Note that SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) is different from SSI (Supplemental Security Income). SSI is for low-income people who didn’t pay enough into Social Security during their working years, or who haven’t worked recently enough to qualify for SSDI. See our information on Supplemental Security Income for more. To get SSI or SSDI, a person must meet Social Security’s definition of disability. 

Is there any downside to Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)?

People who get SSDI might get too much money to qualify for Medicaid and other government benefits (such as SSI, food or housing help, and more, both for the person who gets SSDI and other family members). For people who need health coverage, this can cause more problems in states that didn’t expand Medicaid eligibility. If you’re losing your health insurance due to your disability, and can’t afford coverage on your state Marketplace, check with your local Medicaid agency before you apply for SSDI. You may also get information from your hospital cancer team or social worker.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Along with the American Cancer Society, other sources of information and support are listed below.

Social Security Administration (SSA)
Toll-free number: 1-800-772-1213
TTY: 1-800-325-0778

State Health Care Marketplaces – US Department of Health and Human Services 
Toll-free number: 1-800-318-2596 (also in Spanish)
TTY: 1-855-889-4325

*Inclusion on these lists does not imply endorsement by the American Cancer Society.

Last Medical Review: November 17, 2015 Last Revised: March 1, 2016

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.