LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CIRCA via KATV) — It's known as "the cancer you can catch," which is why many who get it don't talk about it.
Now, however, as new guidelines change for a vaccine to prevent it, Nick Genty is sharing his story to help change that.
For eight years, Genty has tirelessly led a team of reporters, producers and many others in daily news coverage as the news director at Circa partner KATV in Little Rock, Arkansas.
"I noticed I had a lump in the right side of my throat," Genty said.
It turned out Genty had a stone in his salivary gland. His doctor then referred him to a surgeon for what he thought would be a routine removal. But during surgery, the doctor noticed Genty had a tumor on his right tonsil.
That tumor could have cost Genty his life. Luckily, a throat surgeon close by was called in immediately and was able to remove the tonsil, part of the back of Genty's throat and part of his tongue.
It was stage 3 throat cancer that left him needing intensive chemotherapy and radiation for months.
"It's a real scary time," Genty said.
Never a smoker nor a drinker, Genty and his medical team began exploring what may have caused his cancer. Tumors can now be tested for a number of things to help with targeted treatment.
"Head and neck cancer can be caused by a number of things, including smoking and alcohol, but also a number of our head and neck cancers that we treat are related to the virus called HPV," said Dr. Vinita Takiar, a radiation oncologist at UC Health in Cincinnati who specializes in head and neck cancer.
HPV is also known as the human papillomavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says it's the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, and it can, according to Takiar, cause cancer in the back of the throat, including at the base of the tongue and tonsils.
Sure enough, Genty says his team discovered his cancer was caused by HPV—something that with the help of a vaccine could have been prevented.
For years, the HPV vaccine had been recommended for teens and young adults, but now the recommendation has been increased to the age of 45.
"So, that makes a whole lot more people eligible to receive the vaccine," Takiar said.
It's also one of the main reasons Genty is now sharing his story of survival.
"There are so many people that have gone through this. It's not uncommon; it's nothing you should be ashamed of; it's just a part of life," Genty said.
Genty did have clear imaging tests at his last follow-up visit, so he's not only cancer-free, but there are also no early signs it has returned.