Medical student discovers thyroid cancer diagnosis during class on neck examinations

Gabriella Barboza (Gabriella Barboza)

Gabriella Barboza (Gabriella Barboza)

A medical student has revealed how, through a lesson on diagnosing cancer growths, she came to discover that she had thyroid cancer.

Gabriella Barboza, a third-year medical student at a school in Sãn Paulo, Brazil, recalled how her professor, Daniel Lichtenthaler, called her up in class to show how a neck examination should be performed, during a recent interview with BBC Brasil. According to the 22-year-old, the rest of her classmates had already been called upon, so she was being used as a model to explain “the technique for palpating the thyroid”.

However, she said that when her professor examined her neck, he seemed to have a strange reaction to it. “He said: ‘there’s something there, take a look,’” she recalled.

After the class, and at her professor’s suggestion, Barboza said that she underwent various tests and was eventually diagnosed with papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC). According to the Mayo Clinic, PTC is the most common type of thyroid cancer and often affects people between the ages of 30 and 50.

She also acknowledged that, if it were not for her class, which took place in October 2020, she might not “have discovered” her cancer so early on.

“I think that if I hadn’t gone that day, maybe I wouldn’t have discovered the disease so soon, my diagnosis would have taken much longer and it could have been more serious,” she said.

Barboza said that she began treatment in November 2020, and the first step was to have her thyroid and the tumour mass on other parts of her neck surgically removed. The following January, she underwent an iodine therapy session, a procedure used to fight the remnants of the cancer, according to Insider.

Her treatment was a success and she was considered officially cured in February 2021. On her Instagram at the time, she shared a post in honour of the moment.

“And I beat cancer! After months of struggle, I wanted to record this remarkable moment in my life, which made me become a better person and see the world in a different way,” she wrote. “I was reborn and now a new cycle begins.”

During her interview with BBC, Barboza also acknowledged how the experience has impacted her upcoming medical career, as she learned the importance of paying attention to the details of every patient.

“I always wanted to be a doctor to take care of others and heal people, regardless of specialty. But after what I went through as a patient, I think the perspective changes,” she explained. “All that I experienced changed my history with medicine and made me grow not only personally, but also professionally.”

The Independent has contacted Barboza for comment.