WASHINGTON — Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and an icon of the civil rights movement, announced on Sunday that he had advanced pancreatic cancer, but planned to return to Washington to continue work and begin treatment.
“I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” Mr. Lewis, 79, said in a statement. “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”
Survival rates for pancreatic cancer are grim, and Mr. Lewis said his cancer was Stage 4, the most advanced. Mr. Lewis said that while he was “cleareyed about the prognosis,” doctors had told him that advances in medical treatment would help give him “a fighting chance.”
“I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the beloved community,” Mr. Lewis said. “We still have many bridges to cross.”
Mr. Lewis said that doctors determined he had the cancer during a routine medical visit this month and that subsequent tests confirmed the diagnosis. His treatment plan will continue for several weeks.
“I may miss a few votes during this period, but with God’s grace I will be back on the front lines soon,” Mr. Lewis said.
Pancreatic cancer, which will be diagnosed in about 56,700 people this year in the United States, is the country’s third-leading cause of cancer deaths, behind cancers of the lung and the colon. Three-fourths of people struck with pancreatic cancer die within a year of diagnosis, while only about one in 10 live for five years or longer.
Born on a sharecropping farm, Mr. Lewis has spent his life fighting for racial integration and civil rights, rising through the ranks of the civil rights movement before taking office. As the representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since 1987 and the dean of the Georgia delegation, he is seen by many Democrats on Capitol Hill as the conscience of the caucus.
“You’re not alone in this fight, my friend,” Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, wrote on Twitter. “The whole nation, which owes you an incredible debt, is with you.”
A practitioner of what he likes to call “good trouble, necessary trouble,” Mr. Lewis was an early advocate of nonviolence, even as he suffered brutal, senseless beatings. Arrested 40 times between 1960 and 1966, he endured and survived numerous days in jails, as well as the Bloody Sunday march in 1965 over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. He is also a veteran of the 1960s Freedom Rides and lunch counter protests, and is the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington in August 1963.
“If there’s one thing I love” about Mr. Lewis, former President Barack Obama wrote on Twitter, “it’s his incomparable will to fight. I know he’s got a lot more of that left in him. Praying for you, my friend.”