WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had two malignant lung nodules removed on Friday, the court announced.
“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent a pulmonary lobectomy today at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City,” the court said in a press release. “Two nodules in the lower lobe of her left lung were discovered incidentally during tests performed at George Washington University Hospital to diagnose and treat rib fractures sustained in a fall on November 7.”
“According to the thoracic surgeon, Valerie Rusch, MD, both nodules removed during surgery were found to be malignant on initial pathology evaluation,” the release continued. “Post-surgery, 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. Justice Ginsburg is resting comfortably and is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days.”
This is the 85-year-old Ginsburg’s third cancer diagnosis and her second “incidentaloma.” In 1999, doctors discovered she had stage II colon cancer while treating her for an unrelated abdominal infection; she had her sigmoid colon removed. “The justice is very lucky to have had this picked up incidentally,” said Harmon Eyre, MD, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society at the time, in an article in the New York Times. “If it had been left alone, it would have advanced to another stage.”
Then, in 2009, Ginsburg was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer during a routine physical. That tumor was about 1 cm, which is about as small as can be detected on CT scan, surgical oncologist Paul Lin, MD, of George Washington University Hospital, said in an ABC News story at the time. “She is much more fortunate than most patients who come in because of symptoms from their cancer,” he said.
Ginsburg also has had other health problems; in 2014 doctors found a blocked artery after she suffered chest pain during a workout. She had a stent implanted and went quickly back to work.
Ginsburg, who has been on the court since 1993, is one of its most reliable liberals; she voted twice to uphold the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and also has voted in support of abortion rights. In the second ACA vote, Ginsburg voted with the majority to uphold the law and its individual mandate, but went even further, dissenting from the majority ruling that states could not be required under the ACA to expand their Medicaid programs. “Congress can and often does expand programs, adding new conditions states must meet before receiving funds,” she said from the bench.