Physicians prescribed the laboratory-manufactured diethylstilbestrol, also known as DES, to expectant women from 1938 to 1971. At the time, researchers believed the synthetic estrogen reduced the number of complications during pregnancy. Researchers discovered a rare form of vaginal cancer linked with DES exposure. Daughters born to women who used DES experienced infertility and complications during pregnancy. Boys born to women who used the hormone during pregnancy exhibited urogenitary birth defects that included penile and testicular anomalies.
The British biochemist, Sir Edward Charles Dodds developed the formula for diethylstilbestrol in 1938. Using the formula, graduate student Leon Golberg synthesized the hormone. The FDA approved DES during the year 1947 as a means of preventing miscarriage. The popularity of the medication grew so rapidly that pharmaceutical companies incorporated the formulation into prenatal vitamins. Research indicates that physicians prescribed the medication to three to six million women between the years 1947 and 1971.
As early as 1953, scientists at the University of Chicago concluded that DES proved ineffective in preventing miscarriage or stillbirths. Researchers published the findings in the American Journal of Obstetric Gynecology. However, physicians continued prescribing the medication until 1971 when the FDA withdrew approval of using DES in pregnant women. Findings also indicated that eight daughters born to women using the drug during pregnancy developed adenocarcinoma in vitro.
During the 1970s, physicians prescribed diethylstilbestrol as a “morning after” pill in cases of incest or rape. Physicians also commonly prescribed the medication as a lactation suppression agent in postpartum women. By the 1990s, physicians used DES in the treatment of advanced breast cancer in postmenopausal women and as treatment for advanced prostate cancer in men. Pharmaceutical companies ceased production of DES in 1997.
Symptoms Related to DES Exposure
Women who used DES during pregnancy exhibited a one in six risk of developing breast cancer. Women developed hard lumps in the breast or armpit regions. Symptoms also included a change in the nipple, which included puckering and redness. Many experienced a fluid discharge from the nipple that appeared clear, greenish-yellow or bloody.
Daughters born to women using DES suffer cervical anomalies resembling a rim or a cockscomb development on the anterior area of the cervix. These tissue growths weaken the cervix, causing miscarriages or premature deliveries. Daughters have also developed a T-shaped uterus. This anomaly leads to conception difficulties and premature deliveries. Some women experienced ectopic pregnancies.
Sons born to DES women show an increased risk for developing cysts in the epididymus and a condition known as cryptorchidism, or undescended testicles. Studies indicate boys might also develop transsexual or transgender characteristics.
More recent studies suggest that granddaughters of women who used DES exhibit a higher risk of heart disease, infertility, and ovarian cancer. Studies continue, as scientists monitor the three generations of patients exposed to DES.
First, second, and third generation patients may be entitled to catastrophic illness compensation. Individuals diagnosed with cancer or anomalies possibly linked to DES use must obtain medical records that prove exposure. These records must include the names and addresses of physicians, pharmacists, and pharmaceutical companies who had any part in providing the medication.