DES Daughters More Likely to Suffer Cancers, Reproductive Problems, Study Finds

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) indicates that “DES Daughters” – women whose mothers used <"">diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant – are at risk for serious, long-term health problems. These include breast cancer, a rare type of uterine cancer, and reproductive problems, including infertility, miscarriage, and premature births.

Before 1971, several million women were exposed in utero to DES, which was given to their mothers to prevent pregnancy complications. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) banned DES in 1971, after a study found that it caused a rare vaginal tumor in girls and women exposed to it. Studies later proved that DES didn’t even work against the pregnancy complications it was supposed to prevent.

This new study, which appears in the October 6 edition of the NEJM, combined data from three studies initiated in the 1970s with continued long-term follow-up of 4,653 women exposed in utero to DES and 1927 unexposed controls. According to a report from The New York Daily News, the average woman has about a 1 in 50 chance of developing breast cancer by age 55; for DES daughters it’s 1 in 25, the study found.

The study also found that the rate:

• Of cervical pre-cancer was 6.9 among DES Daughters, vs. percent versus 3.4 percent in women not exposed.
• Of infertility for DES Daughters was 33.3 percent, versus 15.5 percent for those not exposed.
• Of early menopause was 5.1 percent for DES Daughters, versus 1.7 percent in the control group.

DES Daughters in the study who were able to become pregnant had a preterm delivery rate of 53.3, percent versus 17.8 percent. Rates of miscarriage were 50.3 percent in the DES-expose group versus 38.6 percent for the control group. More than 14 percent of DES Daughters who became pregnant suffered a tubal pregnancy, versus just 2.9 percent of the controls. Rates of stillbirth were 8.9 percent in DES Daughters, compared to only 2.6 percent for those not exposed.

There are more than 2 million women in the U.S. who were exposed to DES in utero. The same number of men are thought to have been exposed to DES as well. According to the Daily News, sons of DES users also face health risks — testicular problems and cysts — but these are less well studied and don’t seem to be as common. Other research indicates that “DES Granddaughters” may also face health problems, including irregular periods and fertility issues.

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