Sandra Day O’Connor Has Surgery for Breast Cancer; Full Recovery Is Expected

United Press International

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the only woman to serve on the Supreme Court, had breast cancer surgery Friday, but she said in a statement that the malignancy was discovered “in a very early stage” and she expects a total recovery.

The surgery was performed at Georgetown University Hospital, court spokeswoman Toni House said.

House read a statement from the 58-year-old O’Connor that said, “I underwent surgery for breast cancer. It was found to exist in a very early form and stage. The prognosis is for total recovery. I do not anticipate missing any oral arguments.”

In Middle of Recess


The high court is in the middle of a two-week recess, and oral arguments are scheduled to resume Oct. 31.

House said no further information will be released about the nature of the operation.

“You will not have any further details of the procedure or the specifics,” she said.

O’Connor’s refusal to provide the details of her operation is in keeping with the justices’ traditional reticence about their personal affairs.


It was the second time O’Connor has undergone surgery this year. In March, she had an appendectomy at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

O’Connor was selected for the Supreme Court by President Reagan in July, 1981, to replace retiring Justice Potter Stewart, who has since died. She breezed through the Senate confirmation process and became the first woman to sit on the nation’s highest court in September, 1981.

Cancer of the breast is the most common cancer in women, according to the American Cancer Society, with about one in 10 women developing the disease, most often in their 40s and 50s.

First Lady Nancy Reagan underwent surgery for removal of her left breast at Bethesda Naval Hospital Oct. 17, 1987, immediately after tests showed a small cancer. She returned to the White House five days later.

Typical Treatment

The Cancer Society said treatment of breast cancer depends on a woman’s medical situation and personal preferences but typically involves a combination of surgery and follow-up with radiation or anti-cancer drugs.

In the early stages, doctors prefer to perform a lumpectomy, removing just the cancerous tissue from the breast. In cases where the cancer has spread, the entire breast may be removed along with adjacent lymph nodes, the most common site to which cancer spread.

If breast cancer has not spread to other tissue, the cancer society said, the survival rate five years after treatment approaches 100%. If the cancer has spread, however, the rate is 60%.


O’Connor has proven to be an ally of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the other conservatives on the bench. Her husband, John J. O’Connor, is an attorney in Washington.

Several of O’Connor’s male colleagues have undergone medical treatment in recent years but have not immediately informed the news media.

In July, 1987, Justice Harry Blackmun was treated for a recurrence of cancer in the prostate area in the prostate area and only confirmed the treatment after repeated inquiries to his office and the Mayo Clinic, where he went for the surgery. His prostate had been removed during surgery in 1977.

Justice Lewis Powell also had prostate surgery before his retirement in 1987. Justice Thurgood Marshall was treated for a blood clot in his right foot in August, 1987.