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Ginsburg has surgery for pancreatic cancer

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Thursday underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer, which was apparently at an early stage.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surgery Thursday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the court said.

The cancer was apparently in the early stages, according to the court announcement.

Ginsburg, 75, had the surgery at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. She will remain in the hospital for seven to 10 days, said her surgeon, Dr. Murray Brennan, according to a release issued by the court.

In 1999, Ginsburg had surgery for colon cancer and had chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The only woman on the court, she has been a justice since 1993.

The pancreatic cancer was discovered during a routine, annual exam late last month at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

A CAT scan revealed a tumor measuring about 1 centimeter across the center of the pancreas, the court said.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly cancers: Nearly 38,000 cases a year are diagnosed and overall, fewer than 5 percent survive five years.

The reason: Fewer than one in 10 cases are diagnosed at an early stage — like Ginsburg's appears to be — before the cancer has begun spreading through the abdomen and beyond. That's because early pancreatic cancer produces few symptoms other than vague indigestion.

Even when caught early, surgery for pancreatic cancer is arduous. Doctors typically remove parts of the pancreas, stomach and intestines. Radiation and chemotherapy are common after surgery.

Ginsburg has recently told her former law clerks and others that she envisioned serving on the court into her 80s, although those comments were made before the latest diagnosis.

Ginsburg is one of only two female justices ever. The other is Sandra Day O'Connor, who retired in 2006.

In her previous bout with cancer, Ginsburg received treatment throughout the court's term and never missed a day on the bench.

The justices, in the midst of a winter break, hold their next private conference on Feb. 20 and return to the bench on Feb. 23.

The court's announcement offered few details about the surgery. Brennan is a renowned surgeon whose expertise is treatment of pancreatic cancers and tumors on other soft tissues, like the adrenal and thyroid glands. He was chair of Memorial Sloan-Kettering's surgery department from 1985 until June 2006.