Ruth Bader Ginsburg Has Pancreatic Cancer Surgery

Ginsburg, 75, Had No Symptoms When Tumor Was Found

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 05, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 5, 2009 -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 75, had surgery today for what appears to be early-stage pancreatic cancer, according to a statement released by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ginsburg will likely remain at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where the surgery was done, for seven to 10 days, according to Murray Brennan, MD, FACS, who performed the surgery. The Supreme Court's statement doesn't include details about what type of pancreatic cancer Ginsburg has or what her surgery involved.

Ginsburg's pancreatic cancer was found in late January during a routine annual exam. A computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan showed a tumor, measuring about 1 centimeter across, in the center of Ginsburg's pancreas.

Ginsburg had no symptoms before her pancreatic cancer was found, according to the Supreme Court. Pancreatic cancer often doesn't show any obvious signs, which is why it's typically not found until its late stages.

The pancreas is a long, flat gland that lies in the abdomen behind the stomach. It makes enzymes that aid digestion and certain hormones that help maintain the proper level of sugar in the blood.

Ginsburg, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Clinton, had surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation to treat colorectal cancer in 1999.

Today, Otis W. Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, issued a statement about Ginsburg's pancreatic cancer. "Justice Ginsburg's success in beating back a diagnosis of colon cancer nearly 10 years ago has inspired and given hope to many in the cancer fight. This new diagnosis [of pancreatic cancer] is unfortunate, and we take hope in reports that this was apparently an early stage of disease, and wish her well, offer our support and prayers, and want to encourage her in what we know is going to be a challenging course of therapy," Brawley states.

Speaking at a women's health research dinner in May 2001, Ginsburg said that "cancer is a dreadful disease" and that medicine had made "enormous progress" since her husband had cancer in 1958. At that dinner, Ginsburg said, "There is nothing like a cancer bout to make one relish the joys of being alive. It is as though a special, zestful spice seasons my work and days. Each thing I do comes with a heightened appreciation that I am able to do it."

Show Sources


News release, U.S. Supreme Court.

Associated Press.

WebMD Health News: "Patrick Swayze Has Pancreatic Cancer."

Supreme Court of the United States: "Remarks for Women's Health Research Dinner, May 7, 2001, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States."

Statement from Otis W. Brawley, MD, chief medical officer, American Cancer Society.

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