Breast Cancer


Breast cancer is cancer that develops from the breast tissue. It most commonly develops in cells from the lining of your milk ducts, and the lobules that supply your ducts with milk. Cancers that develop from the ducts are known as ductal carcinomas. Cancers that develop from the lobules are called lobular carcinomas. Some cancers develop from pre-invasive lesions such as ductal carcinoma in situ. There are many sub-types of breast cancer.

General Information

Breast cancer occurs in both men and women. Despite being less common in men, it must be taken seriously. Genetics is believed to be the primary cause in 5% to 10% of all cases. Other risk factors include being female, obesity, lack of exercise, drinking alcohol, using hormone replacement therapy during menopause, ionizing radiation, early age at first menstruation, and having children late in life or not at all. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age.

In its early stages, breast cancer often has no symptoms. As a tumor develops, you may note the following signs:

  • A lump in your breast or underarm that persists after your menstrual cycle.
  • A swelling in your armpit.
  • Pain or tenderness in your breast.
  • A noticeable flattening or indentation in your breast.
  • Any change in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of your breast. A reddish, pitted surface could be the sign of advanced breast cancer.
  • A change in your nipple, such as retraction, dimpling, itching, burning, or ulceration. A scaly rash on your nipple also is symptomatic.
  • Unusual discharge from your nipple.
  • A marble-like area under your skin.
  • An area that is distinctly different from any area on your other breast.

A diagnosis is confirmed by taking a biopsy of the concerning lump. Once the diagnosis is made, further tests are done to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the breast and which treatments are most appropriate.

The main types of treatment for breast cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and bone-directed therapy.

Social Security Administration POMS DI 23022.125 – Breast Cancer

A diagnosis of breast cancer does not necessarily constitute a disability. However, inoperable or unresectable breast cancer equals Social Security Administration Medical Listing 13.10-A, since its prognosis is similar to that listing. A physician’s opinion stating the cancer is inoperable, or an operative note stating the cancer was not completely resected, is required. In place of an operative note, a pathology report may be substituted in some cases.

To establish disability under the guidelines of the SSA based on your diagnosis of breast cancer, you will need a diagnosis of carcinoma with direct extension to the chest wall or skin, a tumor of any size with metastases to the ipsilateral internal mammary nodes, a carcinoma with distant metastases, or recurrent carcinoma, except local recurrence that remits with antineoplastic surgery. A physician’s opinion stating that the cancer is inoperable, or an operative note stating that the cancer was not completely resected, is required. In place of an operative note, a pathology report indicating positive margins may be substituted.

Breast cancer also is listed under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Compassionate Allowance Program, which was launched in 2008 to expedite certain disability claims. Applying for disability benefits under the Compassionate Allowance Program requires the same procedure every applicant must follow when applying for SSA disability benefits; however, you will be notified if your condition is being considered as a compassionate allowance.

Prognosis is poor for individuals with stage IV breast cancer. The five-year survival rate, when appropriately treated, is about 20%. Your representative may be able to help expedite your disability claim if you have a diagnosis of inoperable or unresectable breast cancer.