Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is recovering from colon cancer surgery without any complications, court officials said yesterday. But they declined to provide details that might reveal the extent of the justice's illness and whether she is likely to miss much of the upcoming term.
No particulars were available about the sudden surgery Ginsburg underwent last Friday or what follow-up treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, would be necessary, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.
The prognosis for Ginsburg, 66, a 1993 appointee of President Clinton and the court's second female justice, depends on how much the cancer had spread within and beyond her colon before it was detected. Some medical experts said the presence of abdominal distress, such as Ginsburg experienced in July when her disease was misdiagnosed as the intestinal disorder diverticulitis, could indicate a more advanced stage of cancer. The details of her situation, however, are closely held and it is impossible to predict Ginsburg's chances of recovery.
Ted Gansler, a physician and medical editor for public information at the American Cancer Society, said a colon cancer that causes obvious symptoms, such as abdominal pain, constipation or visible bleeding, tends to be more advanced than a cancer detected by regular screening tests and often means the cancer has grown beyond the colon lining.
Numerous studies have shown that of the people who have symptoms of abdominal distress at the time of their diagnoses, 50 percent to 65 percent die within five years.
Ginsburg, who had an active speaking schedule, first became ill while on the Greek island of Crete in July. It was not until last week that tests at the Washington Hospital Center showed she had cancer and she immediately underwent surgery.
In the meantime, Ginsburg had been keeping up her public appearances, including speeches earlier this month at Rutgers School of Law in Newark and last month at the American Bar Association's annual meeting. At that Atlanta conference, Ginsburg received a civil rights award named in honor of the late Thurgood Marshall, the court's first black justice.
The Constitution does not require that all the justices hear and rule on each case, and over the years, vacancies and illnesses have forced the high court to go several weeks, even months, without a ninth justice. But an eight-member bench can cause problems. If the justices tie 4 to 4 on an appeal, they will sometimes order another round of oral arguments. If they are deadlocked, the judgment of the lower court prevails.
CAPTION: Until her surgery Friday for colon cancer, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made frequent public appearances. The court did not provide details of her illness.