HELENA - Contrary to rumors flying around the state, U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., is feeling well after his surgery from colon cancer last month and is not terminally ill.

The rumor mill had Burns, 66, terminally ill with stomach cancer, with only a few months to live.

Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Burns and the Bethesda Navel Hospital surgeon who removed his colon cancer last month.

"The rumors of my demise are sadly way ahead of time," Burns said, paraphrasing fellow Missouri native Mark Twain with a laugh in a telephone interview Friday. "I'll be around."

"He'll be around for quite awhile," his surgeon, Dr. John DeNobile, chairman of surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital, said in a telephone interview Saturday.

DeNobile said that Burns' colon cancer was detected "very, very early" and classified as Stage 0, which the surgeon said is almost not a cancer. Stage 0 has a five-year survival rate of 100 percent. Burns didn't have stomach cancer.

Colon cancers, if found early, are easy to remove, DeNobile said.

During a routine physical examination, Burns had a colonoscopy procedure that detected the cancer. Burns' father died from colon cancer, putting him in a higher risk group for contracting the disease.

"If he hasn't gotten screened, four or five years later he could have been dead," DeNobile said.

Burns had one benign and one malignant polyp in his colon; the cancerous tumor was removed. His gallbladder also was removed in an unrelated procedure because of gastrointestinal problems over the past several months.

DeNobile said Burns had the surgery during a congressional recess and was in the hospital five or six days and didn't miss a day of work.

"Everything went fine," the physician said.

No chemotherapy or radiation was necessary after the surgery.

Burns didn't issue a press release about the surgery until April 16, a week after he was released from the hospital.

"It just feels like a truck went over your belly," he said. "I'm feeling good. It's still healing up. It just takes a little time to heal up. I never felt bad."

Added Burns: "I haven't swung a golf club, but I'm fixing to next weekend."

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