Henrietta Lacks’ Impact on Cervical Cancer Screening

Henrietta Lacks’ Impact on Cervical Cancer Screening

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Since the premiere of HBO’s film, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” based on the New York Times bestselling novel, many have learned about Henrietta Lacks’ extraordinary life story and significant impact on women’s health and cervical cancer screening.

Hologic recently partnered with two women’s health advocacy organizations, The White Dress Project and Her Viewpoint, to bring the film to Atlanta and convene an important conversation about women’s health. The event took place at the World of Coca-Cola museum, where more than 150 attendees viewed the film and heard from a panel featuring advocates, medical experts and artists. The panel addressed Henrietta’s story and a topic that impacted her life and the lives of many women: cervical cancer.

One Life with a/?p=16907 Lasting Impact

Henrietta Lacks was a tobacco farmer who died from cervical cancer in 1951. At that time, cervical cancer was one of the leading causes of cancer death for U.S. women – and some might argue that would still be the case today if it weren’t for Henrietta.1 Cells from her cervix, commonly called “HeLa cells,” were used in medical research leading to many medical marvels and to establish a link between HPV and cervical cancer.1

Thanks in part to this research, women don’t have to die from cervical cancer anymore. Cervical cancer rates have continued to fall since the introduction of the Pap test and the eventual addition of HPV testing into cervical cancer screening.2 While up to 93% of cervical cancers may be preventable through screening and HPV vaccination, the disease is far from defeated; more than 4,000 women still die each from this cancer.2,3 The story of Henrietta’s life and the lives of cervical cancer survivors today are important to share the message about cervical cancer screening.

The Panelists

Prior to the film screening, attendees heard a passionate panel discussion about Henrietta’s story involving:

  • Renée Elise Goldberry, an award-winning actress best known for her role in the Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton,” who also played the role of young Henrietta in the HBO film. Renée shared her perspective on how Henrietta’s life can inspire women to share their health stories.
  • Jackie Walters, a practicing Ob-Gyn and Atlanta native. A two-time breast cancer survivor, Dr. Jackie understands the power of overcoming personal health challenges. She served as the event host and panel moderator.
  • Linda Blount, the CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative. Linda educated attendees on the importance of cervical cancer screening and highlighted the mortality and screening rate disparities that persist among women of color.
  • Tamika Felder, founder and CEO of Cervivor, a cervical cancer patient support network. Tamika used her personal experience with cervical cancer to speak about the importance of getting involved in your health and educating women in your life about the importance of screening.
  • Jessica Shepherd, a practicing Ob-Gyn and Director of Minimally Invasive Gynecology at the University of Illinois Chicago, as well as the founder of Her Viewpoint. Dr. Shepherd encouraged women and healthcare providers to bridge the communication gap and tackle important health conversations.

Without ever knowing the full impact of her life, Henrietta Lacks moved medicine forward in ways that continue to shape women’s healthcare. Perhaps the most important result was the way in which the knowledge her cells helped to uncover have encouraged women to advocate for their personal health and begin conversations about health with their peers, loved ones and healthcare providers.

Cervical Cancer Screening Matters

The gift that Henrietta has given women can continue through a renewed focus on the importance of cervical cancer screening. For women over 30 years old, that means getting an HPV test with the Pap test (co-testing) every 3-5 years.4

Hologic appreciated the opportunity to join The White Dress Project and Her Viewpoint to educate women on the importance of cervical cancer screening and move closer to a day when women no longer die from this preventable cancer.

To learn more about Pap+HPV Together™, you can visit PapPlusHPV.com.

1. Zielinksi, Sarah. Henrietta Lacks’ “Immortal” Cells. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/henrietta-lacks-immortal-cells-6421299/. Published January 22, 2010. Accessed September 1, 2017. 2. American Cancer Society. What Are the Key Statistics About Cervical Cancer? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Updated January 5, 2017. Accessed September 1, 2017. 3. CDC. Cervical Cancer is Preventable. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/cervical-cancer/index.html. Updated November 5, 2014. Accessed September 1, 2017. 4. ACOG. FAQ: Cervical Cancer Screening. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Cervical-Cancer-Screening. Published February 2016. Accessed September 1, 2017.