Earlier this month, A-list Actor Michael Douglas confessed that his struggles with Stage IV throat cancer were caused not by years of drinking and smoking, as many had suspected, but rather as a result of his contraction of the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (or HPV).
The revelation has resulted in a wave of sensationalized media coverage, but also in a healthy dose of discussion about this condition and the devastating effects it can have. Not everyone with an HPV diagnosis has access to the high level of medical care and treatment as a well-paid Hollywood actor.
Thankfully, our Boston Social Security Disability Insurance lawyers know, not everyone with an HPV diagnosis will need it. Many go through life never even knowing they have it, and suffer no ill effects whatsoever. In the vast majority of cases, the body’s own immune system will clear out the infection entirely over the course of two years.
HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted infection, and there are more than 40 types that can affect both males and females, resulting in infections of the genitals and also of the mouth and throat.
This can result in uncomfortable – but non-life-threatening – conditions such as genital warts. However, it can also result in potentially fatal forms of cancer. In fact, of the 16 million Americans (about 7 percent of the population) with oral HPV, about 15,000 will develop a cancer.
Mainly, cervical cancers are cited, though mouth and throat cancers, like Douglas’s, as well as other types of genital cancers have also been known to occur. While the warts appear typically rather soon after infection, cancer can take many years, even decades, after exposure to develop.
Because of the wide range of potential outcomes of HPV, a diagnosis alone will not be enough to secure disability benefit from the federal government. This is why you won’t find a Social Security blue book listing for HPV that spells out benefit approval for the condition.
However, that does not mean someone with HPV will be denied benefits. It’s just that the determination of benefits will be made based on the resulting condition, rather than the underlying cause.
So for example, if you develop cervical cancer as a result of HPV, your SSDI claim would focus on the cancer, rather than the HPV that caused it.
Almost all cases of cervical cancer – about 12,000 new cases diagnosed each year – are caused by HPV.
The 2013 Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer indicated that the instances of HPV-induced oropharyngeal cancers in both men and women spiked to about 13,000 in 2009, with the vast majority of those individuals being men. The National Cancer Institute reports that about 60 percent of all oropharyngeal cancers can be traced to HPV. There has been a nearly 30 percent rise in oropharyngeal cancer diagnoses since 1988.
Many of those who receive these diagnosis are still of working age, between 40 and 65.
Those with esophageal cancer will find their condition listed under Section 13.16 of the disability blue book listings, and, in some extreme cases, may even qualify for a Compassionate Allowance listing that could result in their case being rapidly expedited.
If you are considering filing for SSDI in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.
Throat cancer and oral sex, June 10, 2013, By Deborah Kotz, The Boston Globe
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Social Security Office Closures Affect Overall Processing Times, June 10, 2013, Boston Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog