The daughters of women given diethylstilbestrol (DES), a drug commonly used decades ago to prevent miscarriages and birth defects, are showing high rates of breast cancer and infertility problems, according to recent research.
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, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers looked at data on 4,653 women who were exposed in utero to DES and compared them to 1,927 women who were not exposed. They found that women whose mothers took DES faced double the risk of breast cancer and infertility, eight times the risk of miscarriage in the second trimester, triple the risk of stillbirth and increased chances of spontaneous abortion, ectopic pregnancy, preeclampsia and early menopause.
The research, funded by the National Cancer Institute, determined that daughters were at a high lifetime risk of a broad spectrum of DES side effects.
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.
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 given 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.