Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had two malignant growths in her left lung removed at a New York hospital on Dec. 21. It’s the third time the Supreme Court’s oldest justice has been treated for cancer and her second stay in a hospital in two months.
Ginsburg, 85, will remain in the hospital for a few days, the court said. She has never missed arguments in more than 25 years as a justice. The court next meets on Jan. 7.
It is the second time for Ginsburg that cancerous growths have been detected at an apparently early stage through unrelated medical tests.
The nodules on her lung were found during X-rays and other tests after Ginsburg fractured ribs in a fall in her Supreme Court office on Nov. 7, the court said. In 2009, routine follow-up screening after Ginsburg’s colorectal cancer 10 years earlier detected a lesion on her pancreas. Doctors operated and removed the growth they’d previously spotted, plus a smaller one they hadn’t seen before. The larger growth was benign, while the smaller one was malignant.
Doctors who aren’t involved in Ginsburg’s care said she may have gotten lucky again, although they caution it is too soon to know.
“This is just luck” that the growths were found through those rib X-rays because accidentally discovered lung tumors tend to be early stage, when surgery works best, said Dr. Giuseppe Giaccone, an oncologist at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Dr. John Lazar, director of thoracic robotic surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said it’s not uncommon to see slow-growing lung cancers in women in their 80s, and they tend to respond well to surgery and go on to die of something unrelated, he said.
Ginsburg’s previous bouts with cancer were so long ago they’re unlikely to be related, Giaccone said.
“If she doesn’t need anything but the surgery, it is a very good sign,” Lazar said.
Both doctors said patients typically spend three days or four days in the hospital after this type of operation.
Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg rebuffed suggestions from some liberals that she should step down in the first two years of President Barack Obama’s second term, when Democrats controlled the Senate and would have been likely to confirm her successor.
She already has hired clerks for the term that extends into 2020, indicating she has no plans to retire.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.