Justice Ginsburg home after cancer surgery

SATURDAY, FEB. 14, 2009

No indication cancer had spread beyond pancreas

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg went home from the hospital Friday with a very encouraging lab report that found no sign her cancer had spread.

Moreover, the small lesion that was spotted in her pancreas and that prompted her surgery proved to be benign, her doctor said. The surgeon, however, found a smaller tumor nearby that was malignant, according to a statement issued by the Supreme Court.

She underwent surgery on Feb. 5 in New York at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Dr. Murray Brennan, a pancreatic specialist, removed her spleen and a portion of her pancreas.

“All lymph nodes proved negative for cancer, and no metastasis was found,” the statement said. Her cancer was described as stage 1 by her doctors.

Dr. Joseph Kim, a liver, pancreas and stomach surgeon at the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, Calif., said she appeared to have a good prognosis.

“It’s outstanding,” he said of the reports. “It’s very good for her.”

Stage 1 cancer denotes a small tumor that shows no sign of spreading to other organs. Ginsburg probably will begin a six-month course of chemotherapy and may receive radiation treatment before or after as well, Kim said.

With a stage 1 tumor, “The chances of survival are far better than the bleak survival figures we commonly talk about,” Kim said. Instead of a 5 percent chance of survival after five years, Ginsburg’s odds could be better than 50 percent, he said.

The spleen helps the body develop immunity during childhood, and adults easily can live without it, Kim said.

The pancreas makes enzymes that help digest food as well as insulin, which helps the body regulate blood sugar. If Ginsburg’s pancreatic function is affected, she could take digestive enzymes in pill form or monitor her insulin like a diabetic, Kim said.

Ginsburg had a CAT scan in late January that revealed a lesion in her pancreas of about 1 centimeter. That test led to her surgery.

“But in searching the entire pancreas, Dr. Brennan identified a previously undetected single, even smaller tumor, which upon examination was found malignant,” the court’s statement said.

Ginsburg was operated on for colon cancer in 1999 and returned to the court without missing a day when the justices heard oral arguments. She also made a practice of releasing medical reports on her condition.

The 75-year-old justice plans to recuperate at her home in Washington, D.C., and has said she expects to be back on the bench when the court next hears oral arguments on Feb. 23.


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