Dan Zenka is promoting prostate health

April 03, 2014

Drawing on both his expertise as senior vice president of communications for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and as a patient in treatment for Stage 4 cancer, Dan is the voice for men all over the world who are dealing with this disease.

In his position he has made numerous medical contacts so could have selected other hospitals for his treatment. However, his HMO sent him to PLCMMCT with its offer of an impressive continuum of care from his general practitioner to his urology team, surgeon, radiation oncologist, oncologist, and even a cardiologist for his follow-up.

“I probably could have gotten in wherever I wanted to go, but I said ‘No, I have my insurance here and I’m very pleased with the medical team and with the hospital,’” Dan said. “My care was impeccable.”

Dan had undergone regular prostate exams since he was 40 and when his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) showed a moderate leap in April 2010, he and his physician were concerned. A needle biopsy followed, confirming the diagnosis, an irony for a man whose job it is to promote the research and outreach of the Santa Monica-based Prostate Cancer Foundation.

“So many things went through my head,” he said. “First, I thought, I work for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. This is not a medical reality I can keep quiet about …”

Armed with much more knowledge than most patients, Dan knew immediately that surgery – a radical prostatectomy – was the best option in his case. Prior to surgery, at the advice of urologist Garrett Matsunaga, M.D., he also underwent physical therapy to build his strength for his recovery and to increase his chances for full continence following surgery.

Dr. Matsunaga has performed more than 700 robotic surgeries to remove the prostate. During the delicate procedure, he preserved Dan’s continence, but found troubling news. Dan’s cancer had spread to the lymph nodes, escalating his condition to Stage 4 cancer, the most serious.

Dr. Matsunaga prefers utilizing PLCMMCT’s da Vinci robot for prostatectomy because it is less invasive, may avoid the necessity for blood transfusion and promotes faster healing. But “open” surgery, he said, can be just as effective. The key factor is the surgeon’s experience, he said.

“We can’t really say that long term continence or sexual function outcomes are better with robotics, when comparing expert open surgeons to robotic surgeons,” Dr. Matsunaga said. Patients should ask, ‘How many prostatectomies do you perform per year?’ And ask, ‘How do your patients fare? What are your outcomes?’”

Following news of his metastases, Dan underwent seven weeks of Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT,) a method of radiation treatment that involves planning to determine the exact size, shape and location of the tumor and provides pinpoint precision while sparing healthy tissues from damage.

Today Dan continues with hormone therapy and, in September will complete his course of ADT. At that point, he says, “Only time will tell whether further treatment is necessary.”

Because there are more than 25 varieties of prostate cancer, he urges patients to research prostate cancer treatment options so they can make informed decisions with their physicians to determine which course of treatment is best for them.. An informed patient is an empowered patient. And he has a new motivation in his mission to promote prostate health. Dan writes a blog about his own experience that can be found at www.mynewyorkminute.org. The blog has 15,000 followers each quarter. Dan’s blog targets all men, but the middle-aged and older men are the toughest to reach.

“It’s the second most common cancer in men after skin cancer and the second most deadly after lung cancer. Yet men don’t talk about it,” Dan said. “You see the younger generation, men in their 20s and 30s, more open to discussion. But men my age and older are often hesitant to talk about diseases below their belts.”