Oral Cancer Survivor and Co-Founder of Six-Step Screening Promotes Early Detection
Eva Grayzel is an unusual late-stage oral cancer survivor: She can speak. Because of that, she feels obligated to tell dentists about their profession’s role in her delayed diagnosis and the heart-wrenching impact the illness had on her and her family.
With cases of HPV-related oral cancer on the rise in young people, Grayzel’s message is timelier than ever. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, oral cancer will be newly diagnosed in about 100 new individuals each day in the U.S. alone, and because so many of the diagnoses aren’t made until long after the cancer has spread, a person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day.
Grayzel is tireless in her efforts to increase awareness. Her emotional story, which she shares with dental professionals across the globe, helps further her screening-awareness campaign, which is anchored by www.sixstepscreening.org.
It’s been 13 years since Grayzel’s diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma and the radical treatment that took a third of her tongue, her entire left sternocleidomastoid muscle, much of her saliva flow and nearly her life. But it’s her account of how the illness affected her relationship with her two young children that is perhaps the most transfixing. Today, she calls herself lucky, not just because she’s alive and cancer-free, but also because unlike so many late-stage survivors, she literally kept the tip of her tongue, physically enabling her to clearly and passionately articulate her message.
Dental Geek: What was your impetus for developing Six-Step screening?
Eva Grayzel: When I was given a second chance at life, I never wanted what happened to me to happen to anyone else so I developed Six-Step Screening to educate the general public and dental professionals about the existence of this debilitating and deadly disease and its early signs. I never once heard the words ‘oral cancer’ until the day I was diagnosed. My dentists and oral surgeons had no idea that the sore staring at them on my lateral tongue was squamous cell carcinoma! In addition to my mission to educate, Six-Step Screening is my tribute to those who came before me and my obligation to those who will follow. By publicly sharing my personal journey to help others, I’m gaining back all the years and more of life that oral cancer took from me.
DG: What challenges have you encountered with your work to raise awareness about Oral Cancer?
EG: Screening is just as important as cleaning. Many dental professionals say they do an oral cancer screening but it varies from a quick look to the ‘Real McCoy.’ The challenge is to motivate every dentist and dental hygienist to perform a thorough screening at every dental checkup. No state in this country mandates regular CE in early detection of oral cancer. Therefore, dental professionals must opt for a course on oral cancer detection. Most prefer courses on cosmetic dentistry. Taking a course on oral cancer detection is about providing the best care for their patients. If you could save one life in your entire career by catching oral cancer early, isn’t it worth it?
DG: You speak internationally sharing your journey through stage IV oral cancer. What do you want your dental audience to know, feel, believe or support?
EG: Audiences travel the journey with me from a delayed diagnosis of late-stage oral cancer, through the surgery, treatment and recovery. The audience doesn’t just hear a story, they ‘experience’ it. This experience establishes an emotional connection and that connection motivates change. The passion for why dental professionals do the work they do is revived – they are empowered to make a difference and save lives through performing oral cancer screenings on all their patients. I emphasize the importance for dental professionals to take responsibility for communicating with their patients about oral cancer and its early signs while they are doing during an intra- and extra- oral exam.