Massachusetts Woman Files First DES Breast Cancer Lawsuit

A first-of-its-kind lawsuit from the daughter of a mother who took the estrogen drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) alleges the hormone caused her to develop breast cancer.

USA Today reports a Newton, Mass., woman is believed to the first woman whose mother was prescribed DES to prevent miscarriage, premature birth or other pregnancy problems to develop breast cancer as a result. Aline MacCormack has named 14 manufacturers of DES drugs from the 1940s through the 1970s in a lawsuit which alleges these companies hid safety data from regulators for years about the potential dangers of DES. Eli Lilly and Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. are among the companies named in this latest lawsuit.

DES was prescribed heavily to pregnant women during these decades to prevent the aforementioned complications with pregnancy. Thousands of women born to mothers who were prescribed these drugs believe it’s had a negative impact on their life. While MacCormack is the first person to allege the synthetic estrogen caused breast cancer by the time she turned 44, thousands of other daughters of “DES mothers” believe it is responsible for their developing cervical or vaginal cancer. These claims have been made since the 1970s, USA Today reports, and most lawsuits have been settled before reaching trial.

MacCormack’s case may end up going to trial and is likely to spark another round of lawsuits from “DES daughters” when they draw the same conclusions as the Massachusetts woman, who believes the form of breast cancer she’s been diagnosed with is rare for a woman her age. Her attorney told the news source that DES daughters face a 1-in-25 chance of developing breast cancer by the time they turn 55. The average risk for women in the U.S. is 1-in-50. He called the use of DES from the 1940s-70s “the biggest human experiment of quackery in the history of medicine.” He represents 18 other women who make similar claims to MacCormack’s.

A Lilly spokesperson told USA Today the claims made in the DES breast cancer lawsuit is “without merit” and no evidence has been submitted which draws a link between use of the estrogen by mothers during those decades and breast cancer in their daughters. The drug companies named in the lawsuit have filed a motion to dismiss expert testimony evidence submitted by MacCormack and the other women in this case which aim to prove DES caused breast cancer. They believe the expert testimony is not based on science. Dismissing this evidence will likely mean the end of a chance for a jury trial.

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