Senate Passes Bill to Honor Henrietta Lacks’ Legacy by Increasing Access to Clinical Trials and Reducing Health Disparities

December 18, 2020

Washington, D.C.—Dec. 18, 2020—The U.S. Senate passed legislation tonight aimed at improving access to clinical trials for communities of color and decreasing health disparities. The bill is now on its way to the president for signature.

The Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act works to increase access and remove barriers to participation in federally sponsored cancer clinical trials among communities that are traditionally underrepresented. The bill is named after a Black woman who died from cervical cancer and whose cells, taken without her knowledge or consent during her treatment, have been used to develop some of modern medicine’s most important breakthroughs, including the development of the polio vaccine and treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS and Parkinson’s disease. 

The following is a statement from American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) President Lisa Lacasse:

“Reducing health disparities must be a priority in this country. ACS CAN is pleased to see this important bill, which is aimed at doing just that, pass in the Senate. Henrietta Lacks’ cells have saved countless lives and with this bill, her legacy will continue to improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities for countless more.

“The Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act would direct the federal government to study policies that impact diverse participation in federally sponsored cancer clinical trials nationwide and recommend potential policy changes that would reduce barriers and make it easier for patients from diverse backgrounds to enroll in clinical trials.

“Communities of color and other medically underserved groups continue to have higher cancer rates and are less likely to be diagnosed early or receive optimal treatment compared to other groups. Yet communities of color, older Americans, rural Americans and poorer Americans remain under-represented in cancer clinical trials. We must do better. Clinical trials represent the best opportunity for all patients to receive the most cutting-edge cancer treatments and need to be easy for patients to access, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic location or age.

“ACS CAN is honored to have had the chance to work with Congress on this bill and we look forward to seeing it signed into law quickly. We cannot achieve our mission of a world with less cancer until we reduce the burden of this disease across all communities.”

Media Contacts

Emily Burr
Director, Media Advocacy
Washington, DC
Alissa Crispino
Vice President, Media Advocacy
Washington, DC