Henrietta Lack’s And The Tumor That Keeps On Living

 | Grace Higgins

A young mother of five ended up in The John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore with cervical cancer. Henrietta Lacks was her name and she came seeking medical attention during a time when care was not great for any poor black woman. A tobacco farmer by trait she did not really have any funds available to pay for any high-quality care. Not to mention that during the 1950s, knowledge on how to treat cancer patients was very limited.


Henrietta Lacks was treated for cervical cancer at the age of 30, at the time John Hopkins hospital was actually one the only hospital who would treat a poor African woman. Lacks would put onto radium treatment, which was a kind of predecessor of radiation therapy. Radium was not really a known cure, it was just the only sort of medical treatment available at the time for the type of terrible disease. Unfortunately, the tumor was extremely malignant and Lacks eventually passed away a year later at the age of 31.

Dr. George Grey was a virus and cancer researcher at the hospital when Lacks was admitted, he had been collected tissue for years for studies. He actually took some of Lack’s tumor cells without even telling her and sent them off for a biopsy. And this is where the incredible story starts, usually, cancer cells had died within 24 hours of being removed from a patient. However, for reasons still unknown today, Lack’s cells started to multiply.

In fact, Lack’s cancer cells are still alive and multiplying today. Today, they are called HeLa cells after her name Henrietta Lacks. HeLa cells are found in all sorts of studies, they are used to test the effects of toxins, drugs, and hormones on the growth of cancer cells. They have even aided the advancement of multiple treatments, thus Henrietta Lacks was able to help & save thousands of woman. The HeLa cells also played an important role in the invention of the polio vaccine.

Unfortunately, the legacy of Henrietta Lack’s is relatively unknown but medical students around the globe do know her name.