By Matt Lalande in Long-Term Disability on November 09, 2021
If you suffer from lung cancer, it’s important to know your rights in regards to disability benefits in Ontario. You do not have to suffer alone, and there are options that can provide you with some financial relief while you focus on your wellness.
Living with lung cancer is something no one expects to go through, especially if you have avoided the risk factors your entire life. Any type of cancer is terrifying, stressful and extremely debilitating for both the patient and their loved ones, and trying to argue with your disability insurance carrier on top of all of that is a frustrating experience you shouldn’t have to deal with.
Our Hamilton disability lawyers understand how important it is to receive financial assistance during this distressing and devastating time. Undergoing substantial stress while you are in chemotherapy or radiation treatment can not only prolong your recovery, but worsen your symptoms and intensify the psychological burden of your condition.
In the 2020 Special Report on Lung Cancer, the Canadian Cancer Society reported that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the country, responsible for 1 in 4 deaths. This is more cancer deaths than the other three common types of cancer combined.
The 5-year net survival rate for lung cancer is among the lowest of all types of cancers, at an average of 19%. However, at stage 4, it’s as low as 5%, while at stage 1 it’s as high as 71%.
While many types of cancer can metastasize into the lungs, primary lung cancer is lung cancer that begins and develops in the lungs. When cells grow abnormally or make abnormal changes within the lungs, they can develop into clumps of cells or tumours. Malignant tumours can become cancerous and begin to spread through the body.
There are more than a dozen types of lung cancer, but more than about 90 percent of them fall into two main categories: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. These two forms of lung cancer grow differently and are also treat- ed differently. Whether the cancer is non-small cell or small cell is determined by the size and other characteristics of the cancer cells as they appear when viewed through a microscope.
Non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): Approximately 9 in 10 of all lung cancers in Canada are classified as NSCLC, and this type is generally less aggressive as it spreads slower. There are three types of NSCLC: large cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma. Large cell carcinoma develops in the periphery of the lung, squamous cell carcinoma begins in the squamous cells located in the airways of the windpipe, and adenocarcinoma begins on the outside layer of the lung. Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of lung cancer diagnosed in individuals with no history of tobacco use.
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC): The more aggressive lung cancer of the two, SCLC (also called oat cell carcinoma) can spread rapidly. It develops in the cells that line the bronchi, which are located in the centre of the lung. SCLC is the most common type of lung cancer diagnosed in individuals who have a history of tobacco use.
While lung cancer is often directly attributed to smoking tobacco, and constitutes approximately 72% of all cases, this is not the only cause. Other risk factors include exposure to asbestos, air pollution, and workplace chemicals, as well as physical inactivity, pre-existing lung disease, a weakened immune system, and family history.
Cancer is a collection of cells growing out of control. The cells in our bodies are constantly growing, and each cell contains a set of instructions, like software in a computer, that regulate cell behavior. Sometimes, a change, or mutation, occurs in a cell’s growth pattern. When these mutations continue to occur—as many as ten to twenty may be required—the once-normal cells begin to grow abnormally. These new growths are called cancers.
Lung cancer usually arises from the cells that line the airways and the nearby mucous glands. When the airways are exposed to toxins we inhale, the transformation of normal cells to cancer begins with a condition called hyperplasia—an increase in the number of cells lining one part of the airways through which we breathe. This is followed by the development of dysplasia, which is an increase in the number of abnormal cells that line the airways. From this point, malignant cells can emerge. If left untreated, these cells can continue to grow and invade surrounding tissues.
In its early stages, lung cancer generally does not present as many symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose early. This is a significant factor in the large number of deaths from lung cancer, as almost 50% of cases are not diagnosed until they reach stage 4, and 20% are diagnosed at stage 3.
Some of the most common symptoms of lung cancer include:
There are three ways cancer can spread: into surrounding tissues from the original tumor, through the blood, or through lymph nodes. The lymph nodes are part of the body’s immune system—they filter the blood for foreign particles, such as bacteria or cancer cells. There are hundreds of lymph nodes throughout your body. Normally, when not inflamed or cancerous, lymph nodes are the size of raisins. Lung cancer can spread to lymph nodes in the chest.
In addition to spreading to lymph nodes, the malignant cells can escape into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. Lung cancer most commonly spreads to the liver, but can also spread to the bones, bone marrow, brain, and
adrenal glands. When a secondary cancer forms in any of these organs, it is called a metastasis.
The prognosis and treatment options for lung cancer vary depending on the stage of the cancer. All cancers are classified as either stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, or stage 4 based on the extent to which the cancer has metastasized or spread, and the size of the primary tumour. Stage 1 is the most mild and treatable stage, with stage 4 being the most severe and aggressive.
Lung cancer is most commonly treated with chemotherapy and radiation treatment. In some cases, these two treatments may be combined together in a process known as chemoradiation.
The symptoms of lung cancer treatment can be just as difficult and limiting as the cancer itself. Symptoms associated with chemotherapy and radiation treatment include:
Further, these treatments often come with long-term or residual side effects such as cardiovascular issues, nerve damage, osteoporosis, and chronic fatigue.
On top of these physical symptoms, lung cancer can also lead to psychological and emotional issues. Studies have shown that up to 55% of lung cancer patients have clinical depression, as well as symptoms of anxiety and social ostracisation. There is also a stigma surrounding a lung cancer diagnosis because it is most often associated in those who smoke or smoked in the past, which can not only make it difficult to receive early treatment, but can also cause feelings of guilt, social stigma, and isolation.
All of these symptoms can cause substantial interruptions in an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis, especially at work.
Most experts believe that more than 80 percent of all cancers occur in response to environmental factors. These factors include such things as cigarette smoke and toxic chemicals. Other risk factors include aging and heredity may also
Cigarette Smoking – Cigarette smoke contains some four thousand chemicals, and at least fifty of them are known carcinogens (cancer-producing substances). Although fewer than 20 percent of smokers will develop lung cancer, scientists have determined that the chemicals in cigarette smoke cause more than 80 to 90 percent of all lung cancers. The risk of developing lung cancer increases significantly with ten to twenty years of regularly smoking one to two packs of cigarettes per day.
For smokers who do not develop lung cancer, smoking may still take a toll on their health in other ways. Many thousands will develop, and die prematurely from, illnesses such as emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, stroke, and accelerated hardening of the coronary arteries, which can lead to heart attacks. Quitting smoking decreases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer. Ten years after quitting, the risk drops by half. Smoking’s harmful effects on the heart also decrease immediately with smoking cessation.
Passive smoking – If you live with or are frequently around smokers, passive smoking may be a risk factor for you. Nonsmokers who live with smokers are estimated to have a 24 percent higher risk of developing lung cancer compared to those who do not live with smokers.
Environmental Pollution – Certain environmental factors are thought to increase the risk of developing lung cancer. The natural, odorless gas called radon is considered a carcinogen. Radon is believed to cause lung cancer deaths. Radon is created by the radioactive decay of uranium and is found in soil and rocks. It may seep into homes and other buildings through pipes, drains, or cracks in foundations.
Asbestos, a fibrous mineral once commonly used in the construction of homes and other buildings, is considered the cause of a form of cancer known as mesothelioma. Asbestos fibers may break into particles and float into the environment. When inhaled, the particles may stick to the lungs and remain there for a lifetime. The long-term effects of exposure to asbestos may not develop until twenty to thirty years after the exposure.
The risk of developing cancer from asbestos exposure is based on the amount and duration of the exposure. People who have worked around asbestos have a five times greater risk of developing lung cancer compared to those who have never worked around asbestos. People who have been exposed to asbestos and who have also been smokers have a risk fifty to ninety times greater than that of non- smokers.
Age – Increasing age lowers a person’s defenses against virtually all diseases, including lung cancer. Nearly 70 percent of those diagnosed with lung cancer are over the age of sixty-five. Only about 3 percent of cases are diagnosed in people younger than forty-five. Also, as we age we are more susceptible to the actions of free radicals, organic molecules that are responsible for aging, tissue damage, and possibly some diseases.
Heredity – Genetics do not appear to be a major risk factor in who develops lung cancer. However, research has shown that genes may play a role in some families. It is believed that some individuals may not be able to rid their bodies of certain cancer- causing agents, leaving them more vulnerable to cancer. Others may have faulty repair mechanisms in their cells, also leaving them at higher risk for cancer.
Lung cancer is estimated to cost the Canadian health care system approximately $70,000 per case, and approximately $2 billion overall, but this does not take into consideration the individual expenses a patient will have to pay out of pocket.
Unfortunately, when you have to miss time from work either for treatment or because you are not capable of performing your job, the bills do not stop coming in. You will still have to pay your mortgage, property taxes, hydro bills, children’s extracurriculars, and anything else you paid for before your diagnosis.
Not only will you continue to see the expenses you currently have pile up, you will now face new expenses as a result of your diagnosis and treatment. These new expenses may include:
Making a claim for long-term disability benefits can help you alleviate the financial burden that comes with an already-debilitating disease.
Having a job – a vocational purpose – provides important psychological and financial benefits for patients in terms of both income and health care benefits. For people diagnosed with cancer, ongoing employment and return to work can promote a sense of normalcy and control during an emotionally challenging time. The problem is that sometimes the ability to return to work after one is battling cancer, or even after winning the battle with cancer – can be extremely challenging, particularly because of the emotional/psychological toll that cancer and cancer treatment takes on a person. Chemotherapy, oncologic surgery and radiation often have long-term adverse effects which can affect a person’s employment and ability to work – especially of one suffers ongoing treatment related symptoms.
If you suffer from cancer, you are eligible to receive long-term disability benefits, if you, as the claimant, are able to prove that you are totally disabled – meaning, that you cannot perform the substantial duties of your “own occupation.” After two years, your disability benefits policy will undergo what is known as a change of definition, in which the terms of total disability will change. At this point, you will need to be able to prove that you are too sick to perform the duties of “any occupation” to which you are suited by way of your education, training and experience. Your insurance carrier cannot require you to obtain any possible job in any industry if it requires a substantial pay decrease, significant retraining, or the like.
A successful disability claim will also depend on the stage of your cancer. Typically, the later the stage of your cancer is, the higher the likelihood will be that you will be approved for disability benefits.
Insurance companies are a for-profit business, which means that they do not always have your best interests in mind.
Many insurance carriers will carefully scrutinize your claim and look for any opportunity to argue that you are still able to work. Even if you suffer from stage 4 cancer, an insurance carrier may still attempt to claim that you do not qualify for disability benefits. They may take the position that you can work other low-impact jobs such as clerical work without taking into account the side effects of treatment or the ongoing physical and psychological pain you are experiencing.
As mentioned above, with lung cancer in particular there is a particular stigma based on its association with tobacco smoking. While 72% of lung cancer cases are directly attributed to smoking, 28% of cases are found in those who have never smoked before. However, many patients with no history of smoking feel that they are judged, while those who do feel that they are accused of “self-inflicting” themselves with the disease. There is also lower funding overall in research for lung cancer than there is with other common cancers, which can lead to difficulty in receiving a diagnosis as well as approval for long-term disability benefits.
It’s therefore imperative that you work closely with a Hamilton disability lawyer who will help you strengthen your case and structure a multidimensional, well-rounded claim on your behalf. This multidimensional approach incorporates all of your doctor’s notes and letters, documentation of all of your tests, treatment records, work history, testimony from occupational specialists, and input from top-tier professionals in the province.
If you’ve been wrongfully denied or cut-off your disability benefits, don’t wait to contact our disability lawyers. The longer you wait, the longer your benefits are not paid. Matt Lalande has been representing long-term disability claimants across Ontario since 2003, and has recovered millions of dollars in disability benefit claims for individuals who have been wrongly denied or cut off from their disability benefits.
If you have lung cancer and cannot work but your long-term disability benefits have been wrongfully cut-off denied, talk to us and tell us about your case in a free consultation. You deserve financial support during this frustrating and stressful time, and we will work to make sure you get it. All consultations are free, at no cost to you, and we never charge until you win your case. Book your free consultation using our online form or by calling us no matter you are in Ontario at 1-844-LALANDE or local in the Hamilton / Burlington / Niagara areas at 905-333-8888.