Ruth Bader Ginsberg Just Had Malignant Nodules Removed From Her Lung — Here’s What That Means

by Mika Doyle
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On Dec. 21, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had two malignant nodules removed from her lung at a New York hospital, The New York Times reports. Ginsberg underwent a lobectomy to remove one of the five lobes of her lung to treat early stage lung cancer, says The New York Times, and the 85-year-old justice is on the road to a full recovery.

According to the statement from the Supreme Court, the nodules were discovered during tests performed when the justice fell and fractured her ribs on Nov. 7. "According to the thoracic surgeon, Valerie W. Rusch, MD, FACS, both nodules removed during surgery were found to be malignant on initial pathology evaluation," the statement says. "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. Updates will be provided as they become available.”

According to NPR, when doctors took CT scans of Ginsberg’s ribs after her fall in November, doctors noticed an abnormality in one lobe of her lung. The results of testing and biopsies showed that there were two non-small cell cancerous lesions, says NPR, but they didn’t see any involvement with Ginsberg’s lymph nodes.

Lung nodules are small, round or oval-shaped growths on the lungs that are no more than three centimeters or about 1 inch in diameter, according to Cleveland Clinic. If lung nodules get any bigger than that, says Cleveland Clinic, they’re called lung masses or pulmonary masses. Cleveland Clinic says lung nodules are actually rather common, and about 90 percent of the really small nodules are benign, or non-cancerous. And most of the time, lung nodules may not even cause any symptoms, says Cleveland Clinic.

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Ginsberg has also previously experienced colon and pancreatic cancer, according to NBC News. Dr. Raja Flores, Mount Sinai Health System's Chair of Thoracic Surgery, tells Bustle Ginberg's lung nodules could be related to her past cancers that have slowly spread to other parts of her body.

"What they're going to do is they're going to look under the microscope to look at the tissue," Dr. Flores tells Bustle. "If the tissue shows pancreas cells, then you know it came from the pancreas. If it shows cells that look like the colon, then it means it came from the colon. If the cells just have lung cells in it, then you know that it originated in the lung, and it's a lung cancer."


Like with Justice Ginsberg, lung nodules are typically diagnosed through a CT scan or a chest X-ray, according to Medical News Today. A doctor will evaluate the lung nodule’s size, shape, appearance, and location to determine how likely it is to be cancerous, Medical News Today reports. If the doctor thinks the nodule might be cancerous, says Medical News Today, a biopsy will need to be performed to know for sure if the nodule is malignant or benign. Treatment for a malignant lung nodule varies, but Medical News Today says common treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

If cancer has spread to the body's lymph nodes, it's called metastasis, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. The lymph nodes play an important role in the staging of cancer, says the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, so if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, it's a higher stage of cancer, which generally requires more intensive treatment. Like with malignant lung nodules, treatment for cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes also varies by the person's specific conditions.

Ginsberg told CNN back in August she has no intention of stepping down any time soon. She said, "My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so think I have about at least five more years."