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Breast Cancer Lawsuit Links Illness to Mother’s DES Use in Pregnancy

A North Carolina woman has filed a breast cancer lawsuit against all of the former manufacturers of the pregnancy drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was removed from the market in the 1970s due to the potential health risks it may cause for children later in life.  

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Teri Beville in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on February 18, indicating that her mother was prescribed DES while she was pregnant with in 1965. As a result of exposure to the drug, Bellville indicates that she has developed breast cancer and a number of other health problems.

The DES breast cancer lawsuit names numerous defendants, including Johnson & Johnson, Eil Lilly, Sanofi-Aventis, Abbott, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, and Merck, among others, all of whom were involved with the production or distribution of diethlystilbestrol drugs for use during pregnancy between 1948 to 1971.

Beville indicates that she had no genetic or environmental factors that increased her risk of breast cancer.

In 1986, Beville discovered that she had a bicornuate uterus, a known side effect of being exposed to DES in the womb. In March 2011, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, had to undergo a double mastectomy and had to also undergo chemotherapy. She then had multiple revision surgeries for breast reconstruction.

DES was a synthetic estrogen given to women as pills, topical creams and in other forms. It was in use from the 1940s until the 1971 DES recall and an estimated 4 million people are suspected to have been exposed to it in utero before use was discontinued.

DES was removed from the market in 1971, after studies found that it was ineffective and appeared to be linked to vaginal cancer. However, for several decades, women were given the drug during pregnancy to prevent complications.

Grown daughters of those women are now showing increased rates of breast cancer, infertility and other health problems, studies suggest.

The estimated 2 million men who were born to mothers using DES show some signs of increased risk of testicular problems and cysts, but at nowhere near the rate of problems suffered by women exposed to DES, who are now in their 40s or older.

The side effects of DES appear to be manifesting in granddaughters of users as well, with increased rates of late onset of menstruation and irregular menstrual cycles.

Beville’s lawsuit alleges that her ailments were caused by DES and that the manufacturers provided it to pregnant women for decades without providing adequate warnings. She presents claims for negligence, failure to warn, breach of warranty, fraudulent misrepresentation, and negligent misrepresentation, seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.

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