Website SiteProtection badge

Cervical cancer: the legacy of Henrietta Lacks


Henrietta Lacks’ story is one of injustice, with the vast contribution she made to science hidden from the world for many years. While she sought treatment for her cancer, researchers took biopsies from her body without her knowledge or consent. The cells they took, known as HeLa cells, subsequently became the first “immortal” cell line - meaning they are the only cells which have continued to live outside the human body and replicate.

“WHO’s goal is to eliminate cervical cancer, which means the innovations created with Henrietta Lacks’ cells must be made available equitably to all women and girls. We look forward to working with the Lacks family to raise awareness on cervical cancer and advance racial equity in health and science,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

On 13 October 2021, Dr Tedros welcomed the Lacks Family for a special dialogue at WHO headquarters in Geneva, where Henrietta Lacks was posthumously awarded. One year later, WHO appointed Henrietta Lacks' son Lawrence Lacks, Sr., and his granddaughters, Victoria Baptiste and Veronica Robinson; and Alfred Lacks Carter, Jr., Henrietta Lacks’ grandson, as WHO Goodwill Ambassadors for Cervical Cancer Elimination. The appointment recognizes their efforts to champion cervical cancer prevention and to preserve the memory of Henrietta Lacks, who died from cervical cancer in 1951.

Cervical cancer could be the first cancer ever in the world to be eliminated if, by 2030:
90% of girls are vaccinated
70% of women are screened
90% of women with cervical disease receive treatment
WHO info on cervical cancer:
Learn how you can get involved here:
Learn more about the Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative:

Website SiteProtection badge