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TORONTO (Reuters) - Speculation swept Canada's biggest city on Thursday after Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who made global headlines last year for admitting he had smoked crack cocaine, was hospitalized with an abdominal tumor just six weeks before the mayoral election.
With biopsy results expected by the end of the week, Ford's illness raised the possibility he might have to pull out of the Oct. 27 election after having clung to power through a string of scandals, including his appearance in expletive-ridden videos and an admission he bought illegal drugs while in office.
Ford's brother and campaign manager, Doug Ford, was expected to give an update on the mayor's health and political future on Thursday, but pundits were already mulling the mayor's options in a close election race in which Ford is one of three front-runners.
"To some extent or another, the future of the city rests in the status of a tumor in the mayor's belly," columnist Edward Keenan wrote in the Toronto Star, the city's biggest daily newspaper and the one most critical of Ford.
"Whether he can carry on and fight, and what that will mean for his support, whether he needs to withdraw and turn a campaign that has been largely about his governance on its head, whether his brother might run in his place. The decisions need to be made soon," Keenan wrote.
Friday is the deadline for candidates to be added or removed from the ballot. Rob Ford's brother Doug is also a city councillor and could run for mayor, but is seen to lack the mayor's charisma and popular touch.
"In the short term, I think the status quo stays in place, and he's not going to withdraw until he has conclusive news," said Phil Triadafilopoulos, a political science professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
"If his diagnosis is not good, then it will be very hard for him to stay in the race," Triadafilopoulos said, adding that a serious illness would likely be a wash in terms of support, with some people worried he could not do his job and others voting for him in sympathy.
News of the tumor broke in the early evening on Wednesday after the mayor went to hospital complaining of unbearable abdominal pains.
On Thursday, he was transferred from his suburban hospital to Mount Sinai hospital in downtown Toronto.
Rob Ford's father, Doug Ford Sr., a politician and businessman, died of colon cancer less than three months after being diagnosed in 2006.
In 2009, doctors removed a tumor from Rob Ford's appendix but the then-city councillor returned to work in good health.
Medical experts said Ford will likely require surgery whether the tumor is cancerous or benign, and that the biopsy is typically quick and uncomplicated.
The mayor spent two months in rehab for drug and alcohol abuse in May and June, emerging noticeably thinner though still obese. He said he regretted not getting treatment "years ago" to treat his alcohol addiction.
Ford, who came to power in 2010 pledging to cut waste at city hall and keep a lid on taxes, has a core base of suburban support.
His two main opponents in the election wished the mayor well as they went ahead with a two-hour breakfast debate on Thursday that Ford had been scheduled to attend.
A poll released on Wednesday showed Ford running in second place with 28 percent of the vote, behind conservative front-runner John Tory, who had 40 percent of voter support. Left-leaning candidate Olivia Chow was in third place with 21 percent of the vote.
Editing by Peter Galloway and Tom Brown