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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave an update on her health. Getty Images
  • After receiving a cancer diagnosis for the fourth time, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she’s cancer-free.
  • In the past, she has been treated for colorectal, lung, and pancreatic cancer.
  • Ginsburg has said she hopes to stay on the bench through 2023.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or RBG, announced in an interview with CNN Tuesday that she’s cancer-free.

This past summer, the 86-year-old U.S. Supreme Court Justice underwent intensive radiation for pancreatic cancer after doctors identified a malignant tumor during a routine blood test.

“I’m cancer-free. That’s good,” Ginsburg said in the interview, confirming that she’s already back to work.

This is Justice Ginsburg’s fourth time beating cancer.

In 2018, she had part of her lung surgically removed for early stage lung cancer. Before that, in 2009, she received a diagnosis and treatment for early stage pancreatic cancer. In 1999, she overcame colorectal cancer — without, we must add, missing a day on the bench.

“Her journey is an exception — she clearly is strong and resilient,” said Dr. Anton Bilchik, a surgical oncologist and professor of surgery at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, according to Bilchik. Cure rates are typically low and most people present with an advanced form of the disease.

The 5-year survival rate for localized pancreatic cancer is about 37 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute. When cancer spreads, or metastasizes, that survival rate drops to 2.9 percent.

“There are two extremely important points to be made here about [Justice Ginsburg’s] amazing outcome, and they relate to her will and commitment,” said Dr. Wasif M. Saif, the deputy physician-in-chief and director, medical oncology, at Northwell Health Cancer Institute.

The first, Saif says, is RBG’s exceptional commitment to fitness. It’s well known that patients who exercise typically see more success when it comes to beating cancer.

Saif said she’s been able to overcome her weaknesses by working with a “personal trainer, named Bryant Johnson, a former Army reservist attached to the Special Forces, who has trained Ginsburg twice weekly in the justices-only gym at the Supreme Court.”

Second is her determination and positive outlook.

“Family support and a will and desire to fight the cancer are additive factors. Many patients give up the fight due to depression or other factors,” Saif said.

RBG’s age (86) and health history make her story even more unique.

“People in their 80s have a more difficult time tolerating surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy,” said Bilchik.

Older adults have a higher risk of experiencing serious side effects to cancer treatments compared to younger people.

That said, many older adults do respond fairly well with radiation. Radiation technology, which has come a long way over the years, works by destroying cancer cells all while preventing damage to surrounding organs.

Ultimately, how someone responds to radiation depends on type and dose along with the location of cancer.

In addition, less than a year prior to undergoing radiation for pancreatic cancer, RBG had received lung surgery to treat lung cancer.

Having had multiple surgeries always makes subsequent treatments like radiation therapy more challenging, according to Bilchik.

Years before that, she battled colon cancer (1999) and an initial case of pancreatic cancer (2009).

Determined to keep her seat on the bench, Justice Ginsburg has put up a fight. Back in July 2018, she stated she hopes to serve as Justice at least 5 more years.

“Few people have survived pancreas cancer recurrences. RBG not only has survived pancreas cancer but other cancers as well,” Bilchik said. “Hopefully, she is cured and will continue to be an inspiration to all.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, aka RBG, announced she’s cancer-free on Tuesday. The 86-year-old U.S. Supreme Court Justice underwent intensive radiation for pancreatic cancer in August, about a year after undergoing surgery for early stage lung cancer.

Health experts say RBG’s physical fitness, determination, and resilience may have attributed to her amazing success story.