portrait of Henrietta Lacks with lines building on her image to a grid of connected dots

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot
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After her initial round of treatment, what did Henrietta's doctor assume about the effectiveness of the radium therapy?

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In Chapters 4 and 5 of the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, readers learn that Henrietta has been diagnosed with invasive cervical carcinomas. The standard treatment for patients diagnosed with invasive cancer was to use radium, “a white radioactive metal that glows an eerie blue,” to shrink the tumors. Many hospitals believed that radium was safer and more effective than surgery for treating cervical cancer. Initially, Henrietta’s doctors assumed her treatment was a success. “At that point doctors liked what they saw. They saw her cervix was a bit red from the treatment, but the tumor was shrinking.” For weeks, doctors believed the treatment had been successful. It was only after Henrietta’s continued complaints of pain, and a subsequent X-ray, did they learn that the radium treatments were not successful and Henrietta’s tumor had grown and spread to other parts of her body.

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