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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dies At 87

The iconic Supreme Court Justice was battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer

Updated on September 18, 2020 at 11:00pm EDT.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a trailblazer for women’s rights and progressive movements, has died at age 87. She died in her home in Washington D.C. surrounded by her family, according to a statement by the Supreme Court. The cause was complications due to advanced pancreatic cancer.

Nominated by Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg was the second woman appointed to a justice position. A lifelong champion for gender inequality, her powerful opinions in a court that veered right gained attention in more recent years. She was seen as a feminist icon to younger generations, earning the nickname of Notorious RBG. 

Ginsburg had been diagnosed with cancer five times. She survived a bout with colon cancer in 1999, followed by early-staged pancreatic cancer in 2009. The most recent reoccurrence happened in early 2020, when she was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer after lesions were discovered on her liver.

The facts about pancreatic cancer
The pancreas is an elongated pear-shaped organ behind the stomach. One of its jobs is to produce digestive juices that help break down food. Most pancreatic cancers begin in the cells involved in the digestive process.

Pancreatic cancer is not as common as other forms of cancer, but it's the third most deadly form of the disease in the United States. The general five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 9 percent.

One of the reasons it’s so deadly is the fact that it’s often diagnosed late, when the disease is more difficult to treat. Even after surgery, pancreatic cancer often recurs.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The disease had already metastasized or spread to other parts of her body. By stage 4, the survival rate for pancreatic cancer drops to just 1 percent.

“We’ve not had the same breakthroughs yet that we’ve seen in treating other cancers,” says medical director of surgical oncology Jill Onesti, MD, at Mercy Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Immunotherapies, especially, have brought progress in treating some cancers, such as lung cancers and melanoma, she says, but have not worked well in pancreatic cancers. 

Medically reviewed in September 2020.

Sources:
American Cancer Society. “What Is Pancreatic Cancer?” February 2019.
Mayo Clinic. “Pancreatic cancer treatment: Why is it so challenging?”
University of Utah Health “Why is Pancreatic Cancer so Deadly?” March 2019.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Pancreatic Cancer Prognosis.”
American Cancer Society. “Survival Rates for Pancreatic Cancer.” January 2020.

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