The Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) leader Kim Jong-il has life-threatening pancreatic cancer, a news report said yesterday, days after fresh images of him looking gaunt spurred speculation that his health was worsening following a reported stroke last year.
The 67-year-old Kim was diagnosed with the cancer around the time he was felled by the stroke last summer, Seoul's YTN television reported, citing unidentified intelligence officials in the Republic of Korea (ROK) and China.
The report cited the officials saying the disease is "threatening" Kim's life.
Pancreatic cancer is usually only discovered in its final stage, and considering Kim's age, he is expected to live no more than five years, the report said.
The American Cancer Society lists rather less optimistic data; it says about 20 percent of people live at least one year after they discover they have pancreatic cancer but that fewer than 5 percent survive as long as five years.
The ROK's spy agency said it could not confirm the YTN report. Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters he knows nothing of the report. Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young also said he had no information.
Kim's health is a focus of intense media speculation due to concerns about instability in the DPRK and a possible power struggle if he were to die without naming a successor. His third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, has widely been reported as being groomed as heir, but the DPRK has made no announcement to the outside world.
Yesterday's report came after Kim last week made a rare public appearance at an annual memorial for his late father and the DPRK's founder, Kim Il-sung. It was only the second state event he has attended since the reported stroke.
Television footage showed him markedly thinner and with less hair. He also limped slightly, and the sides of his tightly pursed lips looked imbalanced in what were believed to be the effects of a stroke.
The images touched off speculation that he could have other health problems.
The ROK's spy agency has long suspected that Kim has diabetes and heart disease.
Medical doctor and professor Min Yang-ki of Seoul's Hallym University Medical Center has said diabetes usually leads to weight loss. The neurologist also said Kim's limping appears to be a result of a stroke. However, he said, overall it appeared Kim has recovered from that reported illness.
Kim walked on his own into a Pyongyang auditorium for last week's memorial at a normal pace and bowed while standing during a moment of silence.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, said he doubts the YTN report about pancreatic cancer because the number of Kim's "field-guidance" trips to workplaces has increased significantly this year.
"Would he be able to carry out such brisk activity while having pancreatic cancer?" Yang said.
(China Daily via agencies July 14, 2009)