FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-12-28
According to a study published this year, women who were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) while they were in their mother’s womb have an elevated risk of developing a rare cervical and vaginal cancer.
Specifically, the study discovered that women exposed to DES in utero and born between 1947 and 1971, who are now in their 40's and 50's, have been shown to have a higher incidence of a cancer known as clear cell adenocarcinoma (CCA) of the cervix and vagina ― prompting reminders for women in this age group to seek regular cervical screenings.
DES was originally prescribed to expecting mothers to help prevent miscarriages and premature births ― although its effectiveness remains questionable at best. According to the CDC, it was given to pregnant women from the late 1930s until 1971, and then subsequently taken off the market after health concerns began to surface in women who had prenatal exposure to DES ― these women are now otherwise known as “DES daughters.”
Unfortunately, the CDC estimates that roughly 5 to 10 million people were exposed to DES from 1938 until 1971, which includes the pregnant mothers who were prescribed the drug and their children who were exposed during these pregnancies.
DES cancer study
The authors of the recent study were examining whether or not the increased risk of CCA persisted with DES daughters as they aged. It was especially concerning given that the association between CCA and in utero DES exposure was first noticed in younger women.
Researchers used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program and the National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR) to compare the CCA risk of possible DES daughters to those females born during periods in which DES was not prescribed.
The investigators discovered that women aged 40-54 had a 4.55 higher incidence ratio for CCA when compared to women born after 1971 or before 1947 ― leading to the author’s conclusion that women exposed to DES in the womb are still at risk of developing CCA as they grow older.
Other DES cancer concerns
Unfortunately for DES daughters, CCA is only one type of cancer associated with prenatal exposure to DES. For instance, a national study sponsored by the NIH found that DES daughters also have a considerably increased risk of developing breast cancer when over the age of 40.
Consequently, if you or loved one is currently suffering as a result of in utero exposure to DES, it may be advisable to speak with an experienced DES attorney to learn what your rights and options may be.