Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has cancerous growths removed from lung

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Justice Ginsburg recovering from lung surgery

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent surgery Friday to remove two cancerous nodules from her lung. A spokesperson for the Supreme Court said that there was "no evidence of remaining disease" and no evidence of disease "elsewhere in the body" after the surgery.

"Justice Ginsburg is resting comfortably and is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days," the court's public information office reported.

She survived pancreatic cancer thanks to an early diagnosis in 2009, and in 1999 underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation for colon cancer.

Ginsburg is one of the four liberal members of the Supreme Court, and is somewhat of an icon among progressives. The justice, 85, was hospitalized in November after she fell in her office and broke three ribs. Ginsburg is notorious for maintaining a strenuous exercise regime, but recent health scares such as the broken ribs and Friday's surgeries raise questions about her health and ability to remain on the court.

Dr. Raja Flores, chair of thoracic surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, told CBS News that since Ginsburg survived pancreatic and colon cancer, it's likely that slow-moving cancer cells from one of those diagnoses spread to her lungs. Flores did not treat Ginsburg and hasn't spoken to the doctor who did, but he suspects pathology tests will show that the lesions came from her pancreas.

As Ginsburg does not have a history of smoking, Flores said a lung cancer diagnosis was unlikely. He predicted she will be able to "live normally" and "won't miss that part of the lung."

But for Ginsburg, surgery is the easy part, and recovery will be tougher. Flores estimated that she would stay in the hospital 3-6 days and should be up and walking in the next day or so. Typically he would expect someone who had her procedure to return to work in 6 weeks. Her history of routine exercise will be beneficial to a faster recovery.

"I think she's gonna be fine," Flores said.

He also praised Dr. Valerie Rusch, the surgeon who performed the procedure. "She couldn't be in better hands," he said. Rusch and Flores were partners at Memorial Sloane Kettering for ten years.

President Trump has appointed two justices to the Supreme Court, filling seats vacated by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and retirement of moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy. If Ginsburg were to retire, it would allow Mr. Trump to appoint another conservative justice, further tipping the ideological balance of the court. However, Ginsburg has given no indication that she will be leaving the court while Mr. Trump is in office.

Arden Farhi and Ashley Welch contributed reporting

First published on December 21, 2018

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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