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A medical student discovered she had neck cancer during a class on cancer screening, report says

INSIDER logo INSIDER 5/16/2022 amiller@businessinsider.com (Anna Medaris)
A woman undergoes a thyroid screening. fotostorm/Getty Images © fotostorm/Getty Images A woman undergoes a thyroid screening. fotostorm/Getty Images
  • Gabriella Barboza's professor found disturbing signs of neck cancer during a med school simulation. 
  • Barboza, 22, had papillary thyroid carcinoma, the most common type of thyroid cancer. 
  • After having her thyroid removed and other treatments, Barboza is cancer-free. 

Gabriella Barboza was a third-year medical student in Brazil when her professor asked her to help demonstrate how to check for neck tumors. But Barboza played the patient role a little too well — startling the doctor, who noticed some disturbing signs and encouraged her to get her neck officially checked out, the New York Post said Newsflash reported

Barboza took his advice and learned she had papillary thyroid carcinoma, the most common type of thyroid cancer, the Post reported. 

"When I found out, my world collapsed," Barboza, 22, told Newsflash of her 2020 diagnosis. 

"I kept thinking: 'I'm too young to face this,'" she told Newsflash. "I cried a lot and didn't want to believe it. It's a moment when you see things can end."

A post shared by Gabriella (@gabriellabarboza)

PTC is most common in women under 40, according to WebMD. It's unclear what causes it, but it's linked to some genetic conditions and can be a complication of radiation for other cancers. Because it's slow moving, it's typically treatable. 


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It may not cause symptoms, but as the disease progresses, it can lead to a lump, difficulty swallowing and breathing, and a sore throat. 

By the time Barboza's cancer was caught, it had spread to other parts of her neck like her esophagus, Newsflash reported. Still, she was able to treat it by having her thyroid and other neck tumors removed and undergoing iodine therapy to kill lingering cancer cells. 

In 2021, Barboza was declared cancer-free, the Post reported.  

A post shared by Gabriella (@gabriellabarboza)

She's thankful she went to class the day of the neck-cancer detection lesson, the Post reported: "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 told Newsflash the experience has given her a greater appreciation for her chosen profession, and what it's like to be a patient. 

"I always wanted to be a doctor to take care of others and heal people, regardless of speciality," she said. "But after what I went through as a patient, I think my perspective has changed."

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