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RBG's Cancer Returns; She's Still Working

ruth bader ginsburg portrait

July 17, 2020 -- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Friday she is on a course of chemotherapy to treat a recurrence of cancer after lesions were found on her liver. Her chemotherapy treatment is often given when pancreatic cancer spreads. She was first treated for pancreatic cancer in 2009.

In a statement from the Supreme Court, the 87-year-old senior member of the court's four-member liberal wing says she is able to do her job ''full steam."

Well wishes sprang up immediately after the announcement on Twitter, such as the anti-Trump Project Lincoln's "We're praying for RBG," pleas to "hang in there," and an offer to donate a liver. A 2018 documentary on Ginsburg's life, RBG, helped make her a pop culture phenomenon.

She began a course of the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine on May 19, according to the statement. A periodic scan in February and a biopsy revealed the liver lesions, the statement says. The chemo appears to be working. "My most recent scan on July 7 indicated significant reduction of the liver lesions and no new disease," she says in the statement. "I am tolerating chemotherapy well and am encouraged by the success of my current treatment."

She plans to continue biweekly chemotherapy to keep the cancer at bay and says she is able to ''maintain an active daily routine."

According to news reports, she also had radiation therapy for the pancreatic cancer in 2019 and lung tumors removed in 2018. She survived colon cancer in 1999.

In the statement, Ginsburg also says her recent hospitalization to remove gallstones and treat an infection were unrelated to her cancer recurrence.

In a statement on Twitter, American Cancer Society's CEO Gary M. Reedy expressed his best wishes for RBG's continued progress and said: "A cancer diagnosis is never good news, but as Justice Ginsburg's cancer experience has taught us, there is always room for hope, even with a serious diagnosis."

Mustafa Raoof, MD, a surgical oncologist at City of Hope, a comprehensive cancer center near Los Angeles, specializes in pancreatic and liver cancers. He did not treat Justice Ginsburg, but says: "Pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to other parts of the body such as the liver remains a challenging disease to treat. Most therapies are life-prolonging and cure is unusual. The goal of therapy is to not only prolong life but also to maintain or improve quality of life."

Gemcitabine, FDA approved to treat pancreatic cancer that has spread, has been standard therapy since 1997, he says. "It is particularly well tolerated in older patients who are not a candidate for more aggressive chemotherapies."

Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1933, Ginsburg was instrumental in launching the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. President Bill Clinton nominated her as an associate justice of the Supreme Court; she took her seat Aug. 10, 1993.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on July 17, 2020

Sources

Supreme Court of the U.S., statement, July 17, 2020.

Medline Plus: "Gemcitabine Injection."

Supreme Court: Biographies.

CNN: "Ruth Bader Ginsburg announces cancer recurrence, will remain on the Supreme Court."

Mustafa Raoof, MD, surgical oncologist, City of Hope, Duarte, CA.

Twitter: Gary M. Reedy, CEO, American Cancer Society.

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