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DES - A Generational Curse

Steve Wagner

Diethylstilbestrol or DES is a synthetic estrogen that was widely prescribed by doctors from the 1940’s to the early 1970’s. During that period, it was mistakenly believed that DES could prevent miscarriages and premature births. It was also prescribed to treat a host of conditions that included breast and prostate cancer, STDs, excess height in girls, and even offered for use as a contraceptive.

It is estimated that about 3 million women were given DES during their pregnancy between 1940 to 1970, even though clinical trials even in the early 1950s showed no evidence that it prevented adverse pregnancy outcomes. DES was finally pulled from the market by the FDA in 1971 after it was found to cause a form of vaginal cancer in women who had been exposed to the drug in utero. However, by then about 1.5 million female fetuses were already exposed to the drug.

The extent of the harmful effects of DES is yet to be fully understood. Prenatal DES exposure has been associated with at least 12 major health risks including several cancers and many reproductive problems. It has been long established that DES is a carcinogenic. Women exposed to DES in the womb (commonly known as DES daughters) have a 40-fold increased risk of developing vaginal or cervical cancer. DES daughters also have a 20% to 30% increased risk of developing breast cancer. The chances of developing cancer also increases with age. That means that by age 55, every 1 in 50 DES exposed women will develop breast cancer and 1 in 25 will develop some form of vaginal or cervical cancer.

DES is also a known teratogen, which means that it can cause malformation and birth defects in the developing fetus. These malformations can cause many fertility related problems later on in life. A DES daughter’s chance of being infertile is nearly double that of a woman who has not been exposed (30% vs 15%). The risk of spontaneous abortion is also increased at a 50% against 38% risk for women not exposed to DES. DES sons are also at risk of developing genital abnormalities like undescended testes, hypospadias, or development of noncancerous epididymal cysts.

The number of women and babies exposed to DES is anywhere between 5 to 10 million. Recent animal studies have suggested that DES can cause DNA alterations that could be passed on from generation to generation. If that is so, there is no telling the number of people that could be affected at this point. Around the country, people are just now waking up to the effects of this highly controversial and notorious drug, and the fact that the many manufacturers of the drug ignored the early studies that DES did not help prevent miscarriages. In fact, the Indianapolis-based company, Eli Lilly continued to manufacture it till 1997.

If you feel that you or one of your loved ones is suffering from a DES-related health problem, contact our Indiana DES attorneys now. Our drug injury lawyers will provide you with a free evaluation of your case and help you receive the financial compensation to which you are entitled.


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