Black male surgeon preparing for a procedure

Black History Month: Honoring Contributions to Cancer Treatment

Black History Month was created to shine a light on the important role African Americans have played in U.S. history, which of course, includes the medical field. This Black History Month, we’re honoring the significant contributions that Black people have made to advance science and improve cancer care for everyone.
Henrietta Lacks
Only recently has Henrietta Lacks finally found the recognition she deserves, thanks to Rebecca Skloot’s novel, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," and the Oprah Winfrey-produced drama of the same name. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks was dying of cervical cancer. Without her knowledge or permission, cell samples from her cervix were harvested to advance cancer research, becoming the first line of human cells able to reproduce indefinitely. These "HeLa" cells are used by cancer researchers to this day.
Louis T. Wright, M.D.

Louis T. Wright, M.D., was a captain in the U.S. Army, a civil rights activist and surgeon. He became the first Black physician at Harlem Hospital in 1919 and went on to found the cancer research center there. During his impressive career, Wright published 91 scientific papers, became the first Black police surgeon for the New York City Police Department, served as chair of the NAACP Board of Directors and spent most of his life fighting desegregation.
Jane Cooke Wright, M.D.
The daughter of Louis T. Wright, M.D., Jane Cooke Wright, M.D., followed in her father’s footsteps while blazing a trail all her own. Wright spent her career looking for ways to make chemotherapy more accessible, and in 1955, she became the director of the New York University Medical Center’s cancer chemotherapy research program. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her to the President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke and in 1971, she became the first woman elected president of the New York Cancer Society.
Myra Adele Logan, M.D.
Myra Adele Logan, M.D., was the first woman to perform open heart surgery and like Louis T. Wright, M.D., she was a surgeon at Harlem Hospital. In addition to her pioneering efforts in cardiac surgery, Logan also worked to improve breast cancer diagnostic testing. A physician and humanitarian, Logan also worked with Planned Parenthood, the National Cancer Committee and the NAACP during her career.