SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was diagnosed with throat cancer on Saturday, casting doubt on his political future in Latin America's largest economy.
Lula, as the former president is universally known, was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in the larynx and will undergo chemotherapy as the first course of action, according to Sao Paulo's Sirio Libanes Hospital, the same medical center where current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was treated for cancer before taking office last January.
Lula, 66, is a former union leader who rose from poverty to become Brazil's first working-class president. He led the country between 2003 and 2010, a period of robust economic growth in which more than 20 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty and joined the middle class.
Speculation has swirled that Lula could run for the presidency again in 2014 if Rousseff, his political protegee, were to decide not to seek reelection.
Lula, who left office with an approval rating of 87 percent, was also expected to play a key role in next year's municipal elections, helping stump for candidates from his left-leaning Workers' Party, known as the PT.
A folksy leader who has suffered occasional health problems over the years, Lula is a smoker with a weakness for cigarillos, or small cigars.
The Sirio Libanes Hospital, a renowned cancer treatment center in Latin America, said in a statement that Lula was "doing well" and would be released later on Saturday and return for outpatient treatment in the coming days.
Lula is particularly known for his gruff voice, whose roughness seemed to mirror his own unpolished edges. A politician with a Midas touch among voters -- particularly among the lower-income classes that make up the PT's base -- Lula also helped bolster Brazil's influence on the world stage in his eight years in office.
(Reporting by Juliana Schincariol and Luciana Lopez; Editing by Todd Benson and Paul Simao)