For Kristen, a Physician Assistant at Regions Hospital, helping people achieve their best health is a passion. Working in general surgery (on top of teaching physician assistant students at a local university), she knows that getting the right care at the right time is essential.

That’s why, after a stressful brush with human papillomavirus (HPV) and cancer that could’ve been prevented, she’s spreading the word about the importance of HPV vaccination – especially at a young age.

With the HPV vaccine, Kristen’s cancer scare could’ve been avoided

When Kristen was a teenager, the HPV vaccine became available across the country. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. While many HPV infections don’t cause serious problems, some can lead to cervical cancer, neck cancer, throat cancer and other rare cancers. Vaccination against HPV significantly reduces this risk, which is why Kristen, already thinking about working in medicine, wanted to get the vaccine.

However, Kristen’s parents didn’t agree. They didn’t know much about the safety and benefits of the HPV vaccine, so Kristen never received it. Years later, in the summer of 2019, this choice came back to affect Kristen and her entire family.

During a routine visit with her doctor, Kristen’s pap test results indicated something unusual. Upon further investigation, she was diagnosed with HPV and a related form of pre-cancer. Kristen quickly underwent a successful hysterectomy. Thankfully, there weren’t any further signs of cancer.

But Kristen knew that, with the HPV vaccination, her cancer scare might never have happened in the first place. She’s determined to make sure other girls and boys get the potentially life-changing care she missed.

The HPV vaccine can save lives

Since her diagnosis, Kristen has been sharing her story about how crucial it is to get the HPV vaccine. “I look at it in the same way as measles, mumps and rubella – it can save lives just like any other vaccine that’s been around for years,” she says.

Kristen’s right. Every year, HPV-related cancers affect around 44,000 people in the United States, and 80% of all people who aren’t vaccinated will acquire HPV at some point in their lives. Those are staggering statistics. But the HPV vaccine has been proven to help prevent HPV infection and, as a result, help prevent cancer, too.

Though adults up to about 26 years old can get the HPV vaccine, it works better at younger ages. The CDC recommends boys and girls get vaccinated at ages 11-12, and it’s no different than any other shot.

“It’s one of the best choices you can make for you and your kids,” Kristen notes.

How to get the HPV vaccine

To get your children vaccinated against HPV – or to get vaccinated yourself – make an appointment with a primary care doctor. You or your kids can get vaccinated during a regular checkup or at the same time as receiving other vaccinations.

These days, Kristen’s back to enjoying time outdoors, running and hiking with her husband and her dog. But just like in the classroom and in her work at Regions, she’s also focused on making sure people know how to get the best health care.

“There are a lot of things in the world we can’t prevent,” Kristen shares, “but HPV isn’t one of them.”