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Concerns About DES Side Effects Grow

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Boston, MAIt may have been decades since women were given diethylstilbestrol to prevent miscarriage, but according to reports, side effects of the drug, known also as DES, are still a concern. The issue now, however, is the impact that diethylstilbestrol side effects are having on the children of women who took the medication.

According to a study published in October, 2011, in the New England Journal of Medicine, daughters of women who took DES are at an increased risk for a host of problems, including infertility, preterm delivery and certain cancers. In fact, the study, which was conducted by the National Cancer Institute, and reported by Time (10/06/11), found that daughters who were exposed to DES prior to birth had a 53 percent chance of premature delivery, compared with an 18 percent chance in average women. Meanwhile, the women who were exposed to the highest doses reportedly had a 68 percent higher risk of premature delivery.

And although 15 percent of all women have some form of fertility problems, that number more than doubles to 33 percent when the woman was exposed to DES. Furthermore, women exposed to DES had a 50 percent chance of miscarriage in their first trimester, compared with 37 percent of the general population and 16 percent chance of second trimester miscarriage, compared with 2 percent of the general population.

Other pregnancy risks reportedly include an increased risk of stillbirth, neonatal death in the first month of life, ectopic pregnancy and preclampsia.

Meanwhile, women exposed to DES prior to birth have been found to have a 40 times higher risk of clear cell adenocarcinoma, and an increased risk of breast cancer and pre-cancerous cervical changes. As women who were exposed to DES age, researchers say they will be monitored for changes related to aging, such as heart disease and osteoporosis.

It is not yet known if the daughters of women exposed to DES in utero will suffer similar health effects, although some studies suggest third generation females start menstruating late. Unfortunate for all the women exposed to DES is news that the drug did not actually prevent miscarriages and may instead have caused a host of pregnancy problems for those exposed in the womb.

According to researchers, prior to the drug's removal from the market in 1971, several million women were exposed to DES in utero. Many women may not even know they were exposed to the drug, if their mothers did not tell them they took the medication while pregnant.

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