CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday he may need radiotherapy or chemotherapy for cancer treatment that has rocked the OPEC-member nation that he has led since 1999.
Mystery and rumor have surrounded the 56-year-old socialist leader's precise condition since surgery in Cuba last month to remove a cancerous tumor.
Allies of Chavez insist he is in a recovery phase, but one source close to his medical team has said he faces lengthy chemotherapy for colon cancer.
"I'm in the second stage of the disease, (going through) an organ-by-organ assessment and other factors, I mustn't give more details," Chavez told state TV, according to quotes provided by his office and also in other local media.
In the most detailed comments yet on his surgery in Havana last month and followup treatment, Chavez said he had a six-hour operation to reduce a nearly "baseball-size" tumor.
He also said more robust medical methods were necessary. "We're about to start a second stage and maybe a third, to block those malignant cells," he said.
"It could be radiotherapy or chemotherapy."
Though he has reasserted political control with his return to Venezuela last week and wants to appear strong, Chavez's battle to regain his health has raised questions over his ability to govern and to run for re-election in 2012 as planned.
Moody's investors service said in a new report on Venezuela that "ongoing questions over his health could impact his chances of victory against a unified opposition candidate" in next year's election.
The charismatic but authoritarian president who has ruled Venezuela since 1999 is famous for hours-long speeches and a punishing work schedule. However, he now has to scale back his one-man, micromanaging style.
"I need to learn to delegate, let people show their potential," he said, blaming stress and poor personal habits as a factor for his health problems.
"I weighed more than (220 pounds). I was killing myself, 40 cups of coffee, three telephones. ... Permanent anxiety."
Chavez has looked more pale and self-reflective than usual, sometimes walking awkwardly. Still, he appears to be staying busy despite reducing his public appearances to short, stage managed segments.
On Tuesday evening, for example, he attended a Catholic Mass for his health at a military academy.
Despite treatment scheduled for later on Wednesday, Chavez said he still planned to watch a broadcast of Venezuela's soccer game against Paraguay in the regional Copa America tournament.
Images of Chavez watching and cheering Venezuela's 1-0 victory over Ecuador last weekend have been shown repeatedly on state media in an effort to illustrate him returning to some sort of normal life.
Given the absence of precise information about his condition, the country has been awash with speculation -- ranging from Chavez's imminent death to one conspiracy theory the whole affair was made up to earn him sympathy prior to the 2012 vote.
Chavez has laughed off the most extreme versions.
"Neither my colon nor my stomach are chopped into bits, not at all," he said on Wednesday. "Long live life! We will fight against all types of cancer, those produced by capitalism."
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