Brian Lenihan in the Department of Finance earlier this year

The Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan was last night reported to have been diagnosed with a malignant tumour in the days leading up to Christmas.

The Department of Finance has refused to confirm or deny reports that Lenihan (50) has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

The shocking discovery is reported to have been made when the minister attended the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin just a week before Christmas for a suspected hernia problem. According to the reports doctors found a malignant tumour. He will undergo more extensive tests in the coming weeks.

A spokesman for the Department said Lenihan was enjoying Christmas with his family and would not be making any comment on any matter until the New Year. The Government Press Secretary said any minister's health affairs were a personal matter.

Lenihan, who is married to Patricia Ryan, a Circuit Court judge, has two children. He was appointed minister for finance 20 months ago.

He was admitted to hospital on 16 December complaining of discomfort from a suspected hernia problem which was disrupting his sleep. He had been due to attend for scheduled surgery a couple of days later, but attended the Mater ahead of his appointment.

A spokesman for the minister said he had been taken in for a minor procedure that had been brought forward and was expected to be out of work for a number of days.

On 22 December the minister announced the names of the nine members of the Nama board and published the second independent review on credit availability for small and medium enterprises. He also gave a briefing to political and financial journalists. However he did not reveal anything about his health.

Appointing former Revenue Commissioner chief Frank Daly as first chairman of NAMA, Lenihan hailed Daly's experience in the Revenue Commissioners and his work as a government-appointed member of the board of Anglo Irish Bank following the bank's nationalisation earlier this year.

The minister had looked overseas for a chairman, but decided it was essential to appoint somebody who understood Ireland and Irish ways of doing business.

Reports of Lenihan's ill health had been circulating in media circles over Christmas, but the news was broken on a special news bulletin on TV3 at 5.32pm yesterday by political editor Ursula Halligan.

There is unhappiness in government circles about TV3's decision to broadcast the story.

The prognosis for pancreatic cancer is relatively poor, but is improving due to advances in treatment in recent years.

It is difficult to diagnose and is sometimes called the 'silent killer' because it does not cause symptoms. Some symptoms often include pain in the upper abdomen, loss of appetite and jaundice. Treatment commonly involves surgery and chemotherapy.