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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has malignant growths removed from lungs

Ginsburg underwent surgery Friday morning to remove cancerous growths from her left lung
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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surgery Friday morning to have cancerous growths removed from her lung, the Supreme Court press office said.

Ginsburg, 85, underwent a pulmonary lobectomy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, the court said. Two nodules were found in her left lung after she underwent tests following a fall that fractured three of her ribs on Nov. 7.

Both "nodules removed during surgery were found to be malignant on initial pathology evaluation," the court added, but there "was no evidence of any remaining disease."

"Scans performed before surgery indicated no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body. Currently, no further treatment is planned," the court said. "Justice Ginsburg is resting comfortably and is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days."

On its website, Sloan Kettering describes a lobectomy as "the best treatment for an isolated lung cancer in an otherwise healthy patient."

Ginsburg was spotted flying to New York from Washington on the Delta Shuttle on Thursday night. She was walking on her own and spent the entire flight working.

Before the surgery, she participated in a vote blocking the Trump administration from enforcing a ban on asylum requests from immigrants who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The vote, which was announced after the procedure was completed, was 5-4.

Ginsburg, affectionately known as RBG, is the court's oldest serving justice and was nominated in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton.

She has suffered from a number of serious health problems while on the bench. She survived both colon and pancreatic cancer, and had a heart stent procedure in 2014. Despite all her health problems, Ginsburg has never missed Supreme Court arguments in her more than 25 years on the bench, The Associated Press reported.

The lobectomy would have removed about a third of the left lung, said Dr. Raja Flores, chair of thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai Health System in New York. Recovery should not be difficult, he said.

"She's over 80 years old, so they will go slowly with her," Flores told NBC News. "Usually you are up and walking around the day after surgery."

The biggest risks, he added, will be pneumonia and blood clots.

While no immediate treatment is planned, Flores said pathologists will be looking at the tumors taken from Ginsburg's lungs. Flores believes it is most likely the lung tumors are a recurrence of pancreatic cancer, but one that is slow-growing and therefore not a medical emergency.

"As long as she recovers from surgery well, she should be fine. I don't think people should worry," Flores said.

A pathologist will make a final determination on whether it's a recurrence of the pancreatic cancer or a primary lung tumor.

It may be premature to say the surgery completely removed the cancer, said Dr. Sudish Murthy, head of thoracic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. It will take a few days to finish testing the tumors that were removed and to finish tests of nearby lymph nodes to say for sure if the cancer has spread elsewhere in her body, Murthy said.

“Having two lung (tumors) in the same lobe says to me it’s slightly more locally advanced then it’s being let on in some of these reports,” Murthy said.

Murthy said it’s possible Ginsburg has developed lung cancer for the first time, but Flores disagreed.

"I don’t think she's a smoker," Flores said. "So more likely this has spread from the pancreas to the lungs, so it took eight or nine years to develop."

He added that the tumor grew more "like a turtle."

"There are tumors that behave like rabbits — they just jump around and kill you quickly," Flores said. "The fact that these tumors took eight or nine years to show up means they have probably been just smoldering around for a while."

If the liberal Ginsburg were to step down from the bench, that would enable President Donald Trump to name her replacement. The nine-person court is currently made up of five Republican nominees and four Democratic nominees. Trump nominated two of the justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Ginsburg said earlier this year that she has no intention of retiring in the near future, telling CNN in August that, "My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, stepped down when he was 90, so I think I have about at least five more years."

Ginsburg's husband, Martin, died from cancer in 2010. He was 78.

The year has been a breakout one for Ginsburg in pop culture. She was the subject of the documentary 'RBG," and of a feature film opening on Christmas called "On the Basis of Sex." Felicity Jones, the star of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," plays Ginsburg in the movie.