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Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist will be absent Monday from the Supreme Court, beginning a sixth week missed because of thyroid cancer.

The 80-year-old has been receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment at home and plans to skip the two-week cycle of arguments that will begin Monday, a court spokesman said Friday. No other information was available.

Details have been kept secret about the seriousness of Rehnquist's cancer, which was announced in a terse statement Oct. 25. Some doctors familiar with thyroid cancer say his treatment suggests a fast-growing cancer.

Although Rehnquist is working from his home in suburban Virginia, his absence is fueling intense speculation that he will step down soon and give the court its first opening since 1994.

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