DES is a synthetic estrogen first introduced in 1938. It would go on to become standard care for the prevention of miscarriages and premature delivery for more than 30 years before the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moved on its concern that DES not only might be ineffective in treating that for which it was intended—there could also be a link to cervical and vaginal cancers in the offspring of women who took DES.
And now DES breast cancer may be on the horizon.
Arline MacCormack is one of those "DES daughters" referenced above. The Associated Press (AP) reported in January that Arline was 17 when she learned that her mother had been prescribed DES while pregnant. However, the young girl thought little of it until she was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago at the age of 44.
MacCormack told AP that her cancer emerged in spite of precautions like having regular mammograms since the age of 40. "The characteristics of my cancer were for women over 60 typically. It wasn't the type of cancer a 40-year-old or a 44-year-old woman gets," said MacCormack. "When I read the research that's been done, I found I had more chance of getting it because my mom took DES," she said.
MacCormack is one of 53 plaintiffs to file a DES lawsuit alleging DES use by her mother fostered her breast cancer. The plaintiff's DES attorney cites recent research by Dr. Robert Hoover of the National Cancer Institute that suggests DES daughters present a 1 in 25 risk for breast cancer by the age of 55.
That's double the national average.
Diethylstilbestrol side effects are nothing new, as there have been thousands of lawsuits over the years alleging DES cancer of the vagina and cervix. Most of those settled out of court.
However, the breast cancer lawsuits appear to be the first to allege a link between breast cancer and a DES pregnancy, and the matter is being closely watched.
There are a number of factors that appear to suggest DES will be a growing concern for years to come. For one, DES observes a kinship with asbestos inherent with the late emergence of symptoms, decades after exposure. Additionally, DES was widely available and actively prescribed for decades as a standard of care.
Never patented, DES was churned out by a host of different manufacturers. The DES lawsuit in which MacCormack is a participant lists as many as 14 manufacturers. While the FDA suggested to doctors in 1971 that DES should no longer be prescribed to pregnant women, the agency never banned the drug, and it remained on the market (if not actively marketed). It has been reported that many doctors ignored the FDA overtures and continued prescribing DES, believing it to be still effective.
The FDA finally revoked approval of Diethylstilbestrol DES for use in humans…in 2000.
READ MORE DIETHYLSTILBESTROL (DES) LEGAL NEWS
In other words, the grandchildren of women originally prescribed DES for pregnancy. It has been reported there is growing evidence that DES Grandchildren have been adversely affected by a drug ingested by their grandmothers.
According to DES Action USA, a not-for-profit support group, Judge Marianne Bowler of the US District Court of Massachusetts ordered the 14 defendants in the Boston lawsuit to immediately negotiate compensation for the 53 plaintiffs in the case.
Thus, akin to asbestos, it appears DES cancer will be on the legal horizon for a very long time…