Ginsburg's Cancer May Have Been Caught Early Enough

Although the hospital has not yet released the exact details of Ginsburg's operation, most pancreatic cancer patients undergo what is known as a Whipple procedure. In this surgery, parts of the pancreas are removed along with parts of the stomach and small intestine, the gallbladder, part of the common bile duct, and some nearby lymph nodes.

No Reliable Screening Test

While surgery alone will sometimes cure the cancer, many patients also receive other therapies, such as radiation or chemotherapy, to ensure that as many cancer cells are killed as possible, as well as to reduce the odds that the cancer will return.

Part of the reason that this cancer is so deadly is that there is no reliable screening test for the disease. Adding to the problem is that the symptoms that indicate the presence of the illness are easy to miss or misclassify: abdominal pains, loss of appetite, weight loss and possible jaundice. Once these symptoms appear, it is often too late.

The National Cancer Institute estimated that 37,680 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008, and that 34,290 would die from the disease.

ABC News Medical Editor Dr. Tim Johnson noted that doctors' finding the cancer on a routine CT scan before Ginsburg had any symptoms and the surgery's being performed quickly are factors working in her favor.

"Even so, in the best of circumstances, her future is far from certain," he said.

Michelle Schlief contributed to this report.

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