Black History Month – Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was a Black woman born in 1920 whose cervical cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line, used extensively in medical research.

Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951 after going to the hospital with what she described as “a knot in [her] womb.” She was initially diagnosed with a malignant epidermoid carcinoma of the cervix and was treated with radium tube inserts. During her treatment, doctors removed two samples of tissue, one healthy, and one cancerous without Lacks’ knowledge or consent. The cancerous tissue eventually became the first immortal cell line used in biomedical research, and is still used to this day.

Lacks died in 1951 at age 31 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Lackstown. No one is sure of her exact burial location, but she is assumed to be near her mother. She was never made aware, nor was she ever compensated for her contributions to medical science.

Lacks Family medical records were published without their knowledge or consent in the 1980s. In 2013, they became aware that Henrietta Lacks’ genome sequence had been published when the author of the paper contacted them.

The HeLa line is still in use today, as yet another example of Black bodies used for white benefit, without consent or recompense.

Published by

Aila Moireach

Aila is a 30 year old single mum and social justice educator and writer. You can find her on facebook, or on her blog