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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.

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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.

Categories: Blog, HERA News, Ovarian Cancer News

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Breaking News – Ovarian Cancer Research Dream Team Selected

April 21, 2015

Board President (far left) Samantha Lockwood and Collaborating Partners

Board President (far left) Samantha Lockwood and Collaborating Partners

Stand Up to Cancer Ovarian Cancer Dream Team Announced

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Scientific Partner to SU2C, announced today the formation of a Dream Team devoted to ovarian cancer research at the AACR Annual Meeting 2015, held in Philadelphia.

HERA Women’s Cancer Foundation is contributing $200,000 to this effort because of your support. Thank you. This is an opportunity that will have great impact for the ovarian cancer community as a whole, and we are thrilled to be one of the organizations collaborating in this effort. For the thousands of women and families affected by ovarian cancer who are looking to the world of science for answers, innovative research is the best hope for achieving better outcomes.

Our focus at HERA Women’s Cancer Foundation is eliminating ovarian cancer by funding scientific research grants. The Stand Up to Cancer Ovarian Cancer collaborative effort allows HERA to better leverage every dollar raised for this partnership. Our participation in this effort would not be possible without you. Thank you for your unwavering support in what we do. Your support means the world to every life that has been affected by this insidious disease.

I hope you will share this news with family and friends who have supported us and take pride in our accomplishments together.   Read on…

Collaborating organizations, including HERA, will collectively devote $6 million over three years to a project entitled “DNA Repair Therapies for Ovarian Cancer.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year approved the drug olaparib to treat women with advanced ovarian cancer associated with defective BRCA genes, which are among a number of DNA repair genes identified as mutated in ovarian cancer. The existence of defects in DNA repair has emerged as a common weakness in ovarian cancer. By targeting DNA repair pathways, the Dream Team hopes to build and expand on the recent clinical advances seen with olaparib and other PARP inhibitors in current clinical trials.

The team will also focus on prevention and early detection of ovarian cancer, which tends to be diagnosed at a late stage of the disease.

Alan D’Andrea, MD, co-director of the Gene Therapy Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and the Fuller-American Cancer Society professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, will lead the Dream Team. Elizabeth M. Swisher, MD, professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Washington in Seattle, will be co-leader.

In addition to the team leaders, the project will involve researchers at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota; University of Chicago; The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston; and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Thank you for your unwavering support!

Full Press Release

Categories: Blog, HERA News, Ovarian Cancer News

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Risk Factors and Ovarian Cancer

February 19, 2015

Risk Factors and Ovarian Cancer

Written by Board Member and Medical Advisor Sarah Adams, MD

Ovarian cancer is characterized by presentation at late stages, usually when women have tumors throughout the abdomen and pelvis. This is due in part to the lack of effective screening strategies, but may also be due to the early spread of cancer cells in the abdominal cavity and to rapid tumor growth. It has long been hoped that a better understanding of the causes of ovarian cancer and factors that promote tumor development would lead to earlier detection and better outcomes for women with this disease.

The best understood risk factor for ovarian cancer development is a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, and specifically the presence of mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Women who inherit a dysfunctional copy of BRCA1 or BRCA2 are more likely to develop ovarian cancer– with a lifetime risk as high as 40%. Fortunately women who are found to have a BRCA gene mutation can significantly reduce their risk either by having their ovaries removed if they have completed child-bearing, or by taking birth control pills. Currently genetic testing is recommended for all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and genetic counseling to assess cancer risk is recommended for women with a family member who has had breast or ovarian cancer. Importantly, additional genes that are often dysfunctional in ovarian cancers have recently been identified. As the impact of these mutations on cancer risk is evaluated, additional women with inherited susceptibility can be identified and offered risk-reduction options.

talcum powder

Other factors that have been associated with ovarian cancer development are less well understood. An early theory suggesting a link with the use of talc powder has recently been disproven in a large study of over 60,000 women (Houghton SC et al, J Natl Cancer Inst 2014). A more established factor that modulates risk of ovarian cancer is a woman’s reproductive history. Women who have never had children, or who have early onset of menstrual periods or late menopause have been shown to have a higher rate of ovarian cancer development. This increased risk of cancer is associated with increases in the number of ovulatory cycles a woman has in her lifetime – each ovulation event induces local inflammation and requires tissue repair, which could result in cells acquiring cancer-causing mutations. Conversely, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the use of oral contraceptive pills, which interrupt ovulation cycles, all reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.

Interestingly, recent studies suggest that a significant proportion of ovarian cancers actually originate in the fallopian tubes, with early cancers seeding the ovaries before spreading beyond the pelvis. This data derives from careful examination of the ovaries and fallopian tubes removed from women with BRCA gene mutations for cancer risk reduction. This shift in the understanding of the origin of ovarian cancer has led to a new interest in the impact of ovulation on local conditions that could affect both the ovarian surface cells and the nearby fallopian tube. As a result, physicians have begun to evaluate whether removing just the fallopian tubes, and not the ovaries, in young women would provide protection from cancer development without rendering women prematurely menopausal. Ongoing studies are expected to clarify the risks and benefits of this approach, which will allow women and clinicians to make decisions that will best prevent ovarian cancer development.

Women should talk with their health care providers to determine whether genetic counseling or risk reduction procedures are indicated for them. Additional information about ovarian cancer risk and genetic testing is available at the following sites:

http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/hereditary-breast-and-ovarian-cancer

http://www.facingourrisk.org/understanding-brca-and-hboc/index.php

National Cancer Institute: Cancer Genetics Services Directory www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/genetics/directory

Dr. Sarah Adams is the Victor and Ruby Hansen Surface Professor in Ovarian Cancer Research and the Assistant Professor, Gynecologic Oncology at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center

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