Health

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg treated for pancreatic cancer, completes radiation therapy for tumor

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg completed a three-week course of radiation therapy to treat a tumor on her pancreas, according to a release sent by the Supreme Court on Friday. The tumor was treated “definitively,” according to the statement, and there is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body.

The court said that doctors detected the abnormality during a routine blood test early in July and then a biopsy at the end of July at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York confirmed “a localized malignant tumor.” Part of her treatment included the insertion of a bile duct stent. 

“The Justice tolerated treatment well. She cancelled her annual summer visit to Santa Fe, but has otherwise maintained an active schedule,” the statement said. “No further treatment is needed at this time.”

CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus, a cancer specialist, said radiation “is not a standard treatment for pancreatic tumors,” but may be used “in someone who’s very elderly and can’t tolerate aggressive surgery or chemotherapy.”

After treatment targeting the lesion, Agus said, “the hope is it won’t recur, although there is a significant chance at some point it will.”

Agus also said that the statement that the tumor had been treated “definitively” means it was treated “with the hope that they could cure it.” He added, “The problem with pancreatic tumors most of the time is that there are cells elsewhere that we just can’t visualize. So it’s very difficult to cure them, even if you target them.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg 

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Ginsburg, 86, has a history of health problems. In December, Ginsburg had surgery at a New York City hospital to remove two cancerous nodules from her lung. She was also treated last year for rib fractures she sustained in a fall on November 7. 

Ginsburg has survived cancer before: colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer 10 years later.

Her pancreatic cancer was caught very early and removed successfully in 2009. She was treated for colon cancer in 1999 with a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

Ginsburg is perhaps the most prominent of the four liberal justices on the Supreme Court. She tried to ease people’s worries about her health in an interview with NPR published last month.

In the interview, she addressed concerns over her health and took a dig at a comment by the late Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning. 

“There was a senator — I think it was after the pancreatic cancer — who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months,” she said. “That senator — whose name I’ve forgotten — is now himself dead. And I am very much alive.”

In the interview, Ginsburg revealed a dream of hers that she recently told to retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who died last month at the age of 99.

“I said that my dream is that I will stay at the court as long as he did,” she said. “And his immediate response was, ‘Stay longer!'”

Christopher Brito, Grace Segers, Jan Crawford and Ashley Welch contributed reporting


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