Updated from 3:37 p.m. EST

First Union

, the country's sixth-biggest bank holding company, said Friday that its ailing chief executive would step down as a result of his illness.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based company said Edward Crutchfield, 58, would step down as chief executive effective April 18 because he has lymphoma. First Union said president G. Kennedy Thompson, 49, was given the chief executive's post at a special board meeting on Friday. Crutchfield will remain chairman, the bank said.

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"This is the next step in a succession plan put in place some time ago,'' Crutchfield said in a statement. "While I will continue to be actively involved with the corporation, our board of directors concurs that my first priority at this time must be to give proper attention to my medical situation.''

The regional bank, which has about 2,400 branches in 12 states and Washington, DC, saw its profits fall last year as it integrated several recent acquisitions into its operations. The lower profits depressed First Union's stock price, raising some takeover speculation on Wall Street.

Crutchfield would continue to oversee an orderly management transition, and would be active as chairman until at least Dec. 31, 2001, the bank said.

Lymphoma is a "highly curable'' form of cancer, Crutchfield said in the statement. He said he would receive treatment in the coming months.

Shares of First Union rose 1 7/8, or 6.3%, to close at 31 7/8 Friday.