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Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg was recently treated for pancreatic cancer

By Quint Forgey

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday completed a three-week course of radiation therapy to treat a malignant tumor on her pancreas, the Supreme Court said in a statement.

“The tumor was treated definitively and there is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body,” the court said. The news comes after Ginsburg was treated for lung cancer late last year.

Ginsburg began her radiation therapy on Aug. 5 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. The "abnormality" was detected in early July after a blood test, and a July 31 biopsy "confirmed a localized malignant tumor," the court said.

The 86-year-old justice "tolerated treatment well," and apart from canceling an annual summer visit to Santa Fe, she "has otherwise maintained an active schedule," the court said. She "will continue to have periodic blood tests and scans," although "no further treatment is needed at this time."

Ginsburg, who was nominated to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, has survived multiple cancer diagnoses — she was treated for colorectal cancer in 1999 and an earlier bout of pancreatic cancer in 2009.

Most recently, Ginsburg underwent surgery in December 2018 to remove cancerous nodules from her left lung, which were identified after she fell and fractured three ribs last November.

The justice missed oral arguments in January for the first time in her Supreme Court career while recovering, instead working from home using transcripts and written briefs.

POLITICO reported in January that the White House had begun preparing for Ginsburg’s possible death or departure from the court, but she returned to the bench in February and has swatted away concerns regarding her health.

"There was a senator, I think it was after my pancreatic cancer, who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months," Ginsburg told NPR in July. "That senator, whose name I have forgotten, is now himself dead, and I am very much alive."

Some cancer specialists who weren’t involved with the case said it was unusual for Ginsburg to undergo only radiation treatment for the tumor, adding the justice’s age may have been a factor in ruling out surgery.

Otis Brawley, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins University, said physicians would be more inclined to rely on radiation to treat a tumor in an elderly patient instead of operating, even if the individual is physically active.

“You hope that this is all that she needs,” said Brawley. “It is possible that she gets this radiation and she does very well for years to come.”

Diane Simeone, director of pancreatic cancer at NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, said she suspected the tumor may have been a recurrence of the one removed 10 years ago .

"I think it's hard to know for sure, but on the positive side, Justice Ginsburg seems to be feeling well, conducting many of her regular activities that means the side effects of the tumor itself are not that pronounced so far,” Simeone said.

Dan Goldberg and Rachana Pradhan contributed to this report.