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Ruth Bader Ginsburg home after cancer surgery

The 75-year-old Supreme Court justice had her spleen and part of her pancreas removed. A newly discovered tumor is small and hasn't spread; the tumor that prompted the operation is benign.

February 14, 2009|David G. Savage and Karen Kaplan

WASHINGTON AND LOS ANGELES — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg went home from the hospital Friday with an encouraging lab report that found no sign her cancer had spread. The 75-year-old had surgery a week ago to remove a tumor on her pancreas.

A 1-centimeter pancreatic lesion spotted by CT scan last month proved benign, according to her surgeon. "But in searching the entire pancreas, [the doctor] identified a previously undetected single, even smaller tumor, which upon examination was found malignant," according to a statement issued by the Supreme Court.

Dr. Murray Brennan, a pancreatic specialist, removed Ginsburg's spleen and a portion of her pancreas during surgery Feb. 5 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

"All lymph nodes proved negative for cancer, and no metastasis was found," the court statement said. Her doctors described her cancer as stage 1.

Dr. Joseph Kim, a liver, pancreas and stomach surgeon at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, said Ginsburg's prognosis appeared positive.

The reports are "outstanding," he said. "It's very good for her."

The finding that Ginsburg's pancreatic cancer is stage 1 means that the tumor was small and showed no sign of spreading to other organs. She will probably begin a six-month course of chemotherapy and may receive radiation treatment before or after, Kim said.

With a stage 1 tumor, "the chances of survival are far better than the bleak survival figures we commonly talk about," Kim said. Instead of a 5% chance of survival after five years, Ginsburg's odds could be better than 50%, he said.

The spleen helps the body develop immunity during childhood, and adults can easily live without it, Kim said. The pancreas makes insulin, which helps the body regulate sugar, and enzymes that help digest food.

If Ginsburg's pancreatic function is affected, she could take digestive enzymes in pill form and monitor her insulin like a diabetic, Kim said.

Justice Ginsburg had an operation for colon cancer in 1999 and returned to the court without missing a day of court. She made a practice of releasing medical reports on her condition.

The 75-year old justice plans to recuperate at her home in Washington, and has said she expects to be back on the bench when the court next hears oral arguments on Feb. 23. Ginsburg took her seat on the court in 1993.

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david.savage@latimes.com

karen.kaplan@latimes.com

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