SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil's popular former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was hospitalized on Saturday for exhaustion resulting from chemotherapy, complicating his swift recovery from throat cancer and casting doubts on when he might return to political life.
The gravelly voiced Lula, 66, had been expected to assume a greater role in the politics of Brazil's ruling party as soon as next month after doctors reported on his "extraordinary" progress in December.
Lula remains in good health, but the radiation therapy has inflamed his throat and caused "reduced appetite and fatigue," Sao Paulo's Sirio Libanes Hospital reported on Saturday.
His medical team said he would stay in the hospital for nutritional support and further testing, but there was no change to his chemotherapy program.
Lula is a former metalworker and 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.
He left office with a sky-high approval rating of 87 percent and could play a vital role in this year's municipal elections, helping stump for candidates from his left-leaning Workers' Party, known as the PT.
But it is in the next presidential election in 2014 that could be key. Speculation has swirled that Lula could run for the presidency again if President Dilma Rousseff, his political protege, decides not to seek re-election.
Since beginning chemotherapy after his October diagnosis, Lula has lost his full beard and a head of grey hair, but held on to a salt-and-pepper mustache and kept up public appearances in a striking black fedora.
The progress of his treatments, which advanced twice as fast as doctors expected through December, have also added to his legend and stoked expectations of his political future.
Lula has done little to quiet the speculation since leaving office, founding a public policy institute, playing kingmaker in regional politics and traveling the world speaking on democracy.
(Reporting by Anna Flavia Rochas and Ana Flor; Writing by Brad Haynes; Editing by Philip Barbara)