Justine Almada is Saving Lives
Published 11/16/2018 in Alumni Features
Justine Almada is a 2001 Milken Scholar on a mission. Her goal? To save thousands of lives by encouraging men, women, boys, and girls to vaccinate themselves against the human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. A 2014 study estimated that more than 80% of both men and women acquire HPV by 45 years of age. Moreover, various strains of HPV infection cause cervical cancer in women, as well as anal and oral cancer in both men and women. Every year in the U.S., about 3,700 women die from cervical cancer. In addition, each year doctors diagnose about 4,300 new cases of HPV-associated anal cancers in women and 2,200 in men. The saddest part? Most of these HPV-caused cancers are entirely preventable through vaccination.
This is exactly why Justine founded The HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation. She hopes to destigmatize the discussion surrounding the human papillomavirus (HPV) and anal cancer, and to encourage vaccination for both genders. According to Justine, there is a prevailing misconception that HPV vaccination is for females only. “Males contract HPV, too, and they are also susceptible to HPV-induced anal and oral cancer,” she explained. In addition, HPV is associated with about 60% of penile cancers, and various strains of the virus cause genital warts in both men and women.
For Justine, this battle is personal. She lost her mother in 2010 to anal cancer. Along with her brother Tristan and her sister Camille, she founded The HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation—the very first nonprofit organization in the country explicitly dedicated to the fight against anal cancer. In September of 2018, a decade after doctors first diagnosed her mother with stage IV anal cancer, Justine and her two siblings won the inaugural Joe Biden Leap Cancer Award for Exemplary Leadership in cancer.
Justine’s organization has come a long way over the last several years, but her fight is not over. She is working tirelessly to educate men and women about the benefits of HPV vaccination. “Vaccination makes so much sense,” she explained. “These deaths are entirely preventable.”
Justine has an important message for her fellow Milken Scholars: “Vaccination is recommended for all children at the age of 11. If you have children, nieces, or nephews, please protect them from this virus! And please tell your friends to do the same. Like sunscreen, this is a simple and effective step to reduce the risk of cancer later in life. HPV causes 5% of the world’s cancer and we can end all of it with a simple immunization.”
Justine also wants her Milken family to be aware of another key fact. “Children are not the only ones eligible for the vaccine.” Just this past October, the Food and Drug Administration approved HPV vaccination for men and women up to the age of 45-years-old. “Admittedly, by the time we are 45, we have already been exposed to at least one strain of HPV and probably more,” Justine explained. “However, the vaccine protects against nine different strains, so it can protect you against the ones you haven’t already been exposed to. While nowhere near as effective as getting the vaccine at 11, it can still help reduce your risk.”
So whether you are a 2018 Milken Scholar or a 1991 Milken Scholar, Justine encourages you to consider the potentially life-saving benefits of HPV vaccination. When our newest Scholars join the program, we say, “Welcome to the family.” Justine wants you to be with our family for as long as possible.