Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a synthetic female sex hormone. It has similar physiological effects as those of estrogen. For a list of DES-type drugs, click here.
In the 1940s and 50s, DES was prescribed to pregnant women to reduce the risk of miscarriages, but it turned out to have the opposite effect. It was then tested as a "morning after" contraceptive pill. But only after an estimated five to ten million people were exposed to DES during pregnancy, it was discovered in the late 1960s that daughters of women who had taken DES during pregnancy had relatively high rates of vaginal cancer.
DES has since been implicated in several conditions and disorders, including:
- Clear Cell Adenocarcinoma (CCA)
- Physiological anomalies in the reproductive tract
- Pregnancy complications
- Fertility problems
- Vaginal epithelial changes
- Physiological changes in the müllerian tract that can decrease menstrual flow
- Breast cancer (in both the women who were given DES and their daughters who were subjected in utero)
- Non-neoplastic genital abnormalities (reported in men who were exposed in utero)
Many people today are not aware that they were exposed to DES in utero, and some women are not even aware that they were prescribed DES during pregnancy. But the fact is that DES and similar drugs were prescribed from 1938 to 1971 to many women with problems or a history of problems during pregnancy.
What makes the damage caused by DES all the more tragic, however, is that by even the most minimal standards of care, DES should never have been released into the market. And yet despite it never having been patented, about 300 drug manufacturers produced DES and it was prescribed to pregnant women in excessively high doses.
Among early warning signs many pharmaceutical companies knew about but ignored include:
- Since the 1930s, DES experiments in animals were known to cause gynecological anomalies
- Animals exposed to DES in utero experienced uterine malformation, dysplasia, and metaplasia
- Genital abnormalities in the offspring of women who were prescribed DES during pregnancy, including masculinization of females and feminization of males, was ignored by drug companies
- Drug companies also ignored studies done in the 1940s citing the dangers of DES
- DES was used beyond the 1960s without proper testing
If you or a loved one has developed a disorder or condition you know or suspect may have been caused by exposure to DES in utero, you may be entitled to compensation. To find out, you may wish to consult with an experienced pharmaceutical injury attorney. But don't delay — there may be statutes of limitations, or deadlines by which you must file a claim, in your jurisdiction!