Building a healthier community – Early detection vital in battle against prostate cancer

By Eric KowalMay 9, 2024

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Dr. Gregg Zimmerman, a Urologic Oncologist and Director of Robotic Surgery at Saint Clare's Health, speaks to the Picatinny workforce on May 1.
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Dr. Gregg Zimmerman, a Urologic Oncologist and Director of Robotic Surgery at Saint Clare's Health, speaks to the Picatinny workforce on May 1. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Todd Mozes) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Aside from skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 299,010 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 35,250 men are expected to die of the disease in 2024.

Prostate cancer is more common in older men. It is more likely to occur in men with a family history of prostate cancer and in men of African-American descent. Other risk factors include smoking, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise. In the United States, about 11 percent of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during their lifetimes.

Unfortunately, there usually aren’t any early warning signs for prostate cancer. The growing tumor does not push against anything to cause pain, so for many years the disease may be undetected.

Because of effective screening options for prostate cancer, the disease is often caught before it spreads, and survival rates are good for this type of cancer.

“Men are traditionally less likely to seek medical help or engage in preventative health measures which can have serious implications on their overall health and well-being,” said Amy Gopel, Picatinny Arsenal's Army Substance Abuse Program Manager and Employee Assistance Program Coordinator, whose office coordinated a prostate cancer presentation in the Lindner Conference Center.

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - (From left) Kristina Williams, Picatinny Arsenal’s Drug Testing Coordinator and Prevention Assistant., Dr. Gregg Zimmerman, a Urologic Oncologist and Director of Robotic Surgery at Saint Clare's Health, and Amy Gopel, Picatinny Arsenal's Army Substance Abuse Program Manager and Employee Assistance Program Coordinator.
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - (From left) Kristina Williams, Picatinny Arsenal’s Drug Testing Coordinator and Prevention Assistant., Dr. Gregg Zimmerman, a Urologic Oncologist and Director of Robotic Surgery at Saint Clare's Health, and Amy Gopel, Picatinny Arsenal's Army Substance Abuse Program Manager and Employee Assistance Program Coordinator. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Todd Mozes) VIEW ORIGINAL

Dr. Gregg Zimmerman, a Urologic Oncologist and Director of Robotic Surgery at Saint Clare's Health, spoke to the Picatinny workforce on May 1, both in-person and through a live broadcast on Microsoft Teams, about the importance of screening for early detection.

“Amy said it earlier, but men when it comes to healthcare, classically are avoiders,” said Zimmerman. “Women are people who research a problem, treat a problem, get by a problem, whereas men are typically have the ‘if it is broke, don’t fix it,’ type of attitude. It is very important to gain knowledge so you can make informed decisions for yourself in all aspects of healthcare.”

As a specialist at Saint Clare’s, Zimmerman has dealt with and treated prostate cancer in patients for the past 20 years. He estimates that one in every seven men will develop some form of prostate cancer in their lifetime.

“The prostate is a small, rubbery gland, about the size of a walnut,” Zimmerman said. “Although, when it is enlarged, it can be as big as a peach or even bigger.”

The standard screening for prostate cancer is a blood test that specifically measures prostate serum antigen, or PSA, and a digital rectal examination. Abnormal PSA levels may indicate the need for a prostate biopsy where, using ultrasound alone for guidance, tissue samples are taken with a biopsy needle that is passed through the ultrasound probe and rectal wall into the prostate.

According to the National Cancer Institute, almost all prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids). Prostate cancer often has no early symptoms. Advanced prostate cancer can cause men to urinate more often or have a weaker flow of urine. But these symptoms can also be caused by benign prostate conditions.

The earlier prostate cancer is diagnosed, the better the long-term prognosis is for the patient and the more likely a curative treatment will be successful. Curative treatments can include radiation and surgery. Hormone therapy, immunotherapy and chemotherapy are typically reserved for advanced or metastatic prostate cancer. Active surveillance can even be offered to patients with low risk or very low risk disease, avoiding active treatment altogether.

In rare cases, prostate cancer can cause symptoms. Contact your doctor for an evaluation if you experience any of the following:

A need to urinate frequently, especially at night, some- times urgently

Difficulty starting or holding back urination

Weak, dribbling, or interrupted flow of urine

Painful or burning urination

Difficulty in having an erection

A decrease in the amount of fluid ejaculated

Painful ejaculation

Blood in the urine or semen

Pressure or pain in the rectum

Pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, pelvis, or thighs

Early and reliable diagnosis is key to sorting out the appropriate treatment and, thanks to the ultrasound/MRI fusion procedure, it's easier to get an accurate diagnosis sooner.

As the Director of Robotic Surgery at Saint Clare’s, Zimmerman and his team use robotic-assisted surgery, which is designed to provide surgeons with enhanced capabilities, including high-definition 3-D vision and a magnified view, as one form of treatment.

Robotic technology offers an alternative approach to traditional surgery and conventional laparoscopic surgery. It allows doctors to perform complex procedures with just a few small incisions. As a result, patients may be able to recover faster than the usual recovery period following major surgery.

“If the cancer is found early, it is very treatable,” the doctor said. “It is only when found later, typically, that it becomes a problem.”

Some of the benefits of robotic surgery may include:

Less pain

Reduced scarring

Reduced blood loss

Shorter recovery time

Alternative options may include radiation, hormone therapy, and chemotherapy, or other treatments.

One of the most important aspects of long term mental and physical health is preventative examination and testing. Preventative screenings begin at age 40 and intensify between ages 45-50. Some of these screenings test for a variety of conditions, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, colorectal cancer, skin cancer, high blood pressure, lipids and cholesterol and blood sugar levels. At times, men may feel intimidated or concerned about scheduling a preventative health exam and testing with their medical provider.

Employees who would like more information or a referral should contact Amy Gopel at 973-724-4357. All screenings/conversations are confidential.