John L. Keefe
If a doctor were to tell you that you have stage 2 cancer, “cancer” is most likely the word that would stick in your head. It may not be till later that you would remember the words “stage 2.” What do these words mean?
Oncologists use a staging system to describe the extent of a patient’s cancer. For breast cancer, these stages are based on the following:
- The size of the tumor
- Whether the cancer is invasive or noninvasive
- Whether the cancer has spread beyond the breast
- Whether lymph nodes are involved
STAGE 0: Stage 0 is used to describe noninvasive breast cancers. Examples include lobular carcinoma in situ and ductal carcinoma in situ. “In situ” means the abnormal cells have not spread from where the cancer began. There is no cancer in normal neighboring breast tissue.
STAGE 1: In stage 1, cancerous cells have invaded normal neighboring tissue. The tumor may be as large as 2 cm in diameter, but there is no lymph node involvement.
STAGE 2A: Stage 2A cancers are invasive and may include any of the following scenarios:
- Cancerous cells have been found in the lymph nodes under the arms, but a tumor has not been detected in the breast itself.
- The tumor is two centimeters or less in diameter and has spread to the lymph nodes in the underarms.
- The tumor is larger than two centimeters but smaller than five centimeters in diameter and has not spread to the underarm lymph nodes.
STAGE 2B: Stage 2B cancers are also invasive and may include either of the following scenarios:
- The tumor is five centimeters or more in diameter and has not spread to lymph nodes under the arm.
- The tumor size is greater than two centimeters in diameter but less than five centimeters and has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
STAGE 3A: Stage 3A breast cancer can include any of the following scenarios:
- There is no breast tumor, but there is cancer in the underarm lymph nodes, which are clumped together or attached to other structures.
- There is no breast tumor, but cancer has spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone.
- There is a tumor (of any size) and the cancer has spread to the underarm lymph nodes, which are clumped together or attached to other structures.
STAGE 3B: There is a tumor (of any size) and the cancer has spread to the chest wall, breast skin, or both. The cancer also may have spread to the underarm lymph nodes, which are clumped together or attached to other structure. Or, the cancer may have invaded the lymph nodes near the breastbone. Inflammatory breast cancer is considered to be at least stage 3B.
STAGE 3C: The tumor, if present, may be any size. The cancer has spread to the skin of the breast or the chest wall, or both. In addition, the cancer has spread to lymph nodes above or below the collarbone. The cancer may also be present in the underarm lymph nodes or lymph nodes near the breastbone.
STAGE 4: The cancer has spread beyond the breast and has invaded other organs of the body, such as bones, the lungs, distant lymph nodes, the skin, the liver or the brain. The terms “advanced” and “metastatic” refer to stage 4 cancer.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers breast cancer a qualifying disability at stage 3B and higher. But, this doesn’t mean that those with earlier-stage cancers are not eligible for Social Security disability benefits. If you have stage 2 or stage 3A breast cancer and are unable to work because of your cancer treatment, you may still be approved for SSI or SSDI through a medical-vocational allowance. SSA will need to determine how long your disability will last and whether you are able to work and engage in the activities of daily life. The SSA will look at the work you have done in the past, your skills, and what you are able to do now when they determine if you qualify for benefits. The SSA will then assign you a “residual functional capacity” (RFC) rating. Your RFC rating will determine if you qualify for SSI/SSDI.
Learn more about the SSDI application process in Boston disability law attorney John Keefe's book titled The Five Most Frequently Asked Questions About Social Security Disability. Request your free copy by clicking on the link in the sidebar.
If you have additional questions or would like to discuss your breast cancer disability claim, please call Keefe Disability Law at 888-904-6847. The initial consultation is free.
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