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Concern over Diethylstilbestrol DES Not Confined to US

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Auckland, New ZealandConcern over Diethylstilbestrol DES and the potential link to breast cancer and other cancers long after the hormone was discontinued, reaches far beyond the US. To that end, women in New Zealand are equally concerned over the very real threat this once-common hormone represents to women the world over.

And not just to the women who took the hormone prior to its discontinuance in the early 1970's. Their daughters are also at risk for DES cancer and other Diethylstilbestrol side effects.

It was last year when a US study revealed that the offspring of women prescribed diethylstilbestrol DES, a synthetic estrogen taken during pregnancy, exhibited a higher risk for infertility, premature childbirth, DES breast cancer and clear cell adenocarcinoma, a rare vaginal cancer.

The revelations were a shock to patients and the medical community, given the prevalence of DES from 1940 through to 1970, when concern over adenocarcinoma first surfaced. Until that point, DES enjoyed widespread use as a means to reduce complications associated with pregnancy. So commonplace was the use of DES that it was made by no fewer than 14 manufacturers before it was pulled from the market by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US and comparable health authorities around the globe, including New Zealand.

Those manufacturers are the focus of a DES lawsuit filed by the daughters of DES mothers—and there is even a concern over the granddaughters of women who went through DES pregnancy so many decades ago.

The implications for both plaintiff and DES attorney, therefore, are massive.

The New Zealand Herald (1/19/12) reported the hormone was given to pregnant New Zealanders in the 1960s. As in the US, DES was discontinued in New Zealand in 1971. However the damage, it is alleged, had already been done.

A professor at New Zealand's Otago University estimates that hundreds of New Zealand women were administered DES prior to its disappearance from the market. But Charlotte Paul, a preventative and social medicine expert who was medical advisor to the Cartwright Inquiry into cervical cancer, admitted the number remains "a guess" at best, given the refusal by health authorities to establish a registry of patients at risk for exposure.

Results from a survey conducted amongst obstetricians and gynecologists in New Zealand in the early 1980's are probably well under actual figures. "We estimated 600 exposed women in 1984 and considered that a major underestimate," Professor Paul said in comments published in the New Zealand Herald. "It may be 1000 to 2000. It is a guess now.

"The mothers have an increased risk of breast cancer, the daughters of CCA and breast cancer, and very commonly structural abnormalities of the reproductive tract and hence difficulty with childbearing," Ms. Paul continued. "The sons have some reproductive tract abnormalities" as well, she said.

US research published by the New Zealand Herald found that DES daughters exposed to Diethylstilbestrol DES had 40 times the risk of developing clear cell adenocarcinoma (DES cancer), five times as likely to give birth prematurely and twice as likely to be infertile.

A group of 53 DES daughters filed a Diethylstilbestrol lawsuit. A judge has since issued an order for the 14 defendants to enter into negotiations with plaintiffs to settle. Current US litigation under DES law is being watched closely by other prospective plaintiffs around the globe.


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