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Preliminary Discussion of Adverse Health Effects in DES Granddaughters

March 18, 2008

If you’re not familiar with DES (Diethylstilbestrol), it’s a drug that was given to women to prevent miscarriages and premature births from 1938-1971, a practice that ended when the FDA issued a warning because of unusual vaginal cancers found in the daughters of women given the drug. The CDC estimates that “5-10 million pregnant women and the children born of these pregnancies were exposed to DES,” and that the grandchildren of these women are just now reaching an age at which third generation effects can be studied.

In fact, a CDC bibliography of research publications on effects in the 3rd generation currently includes only six papers. A newly released and very preliminary study in the journal Epidemiology suggests that ovarian cancer rates may be increased in these “DES granddaughters,” although it is based on only three cases. The authors clearly point out that “[the] finding may be due to chance or possibly to bias, and should be considered preliminary,” but that “our observation reinforces the need for continued follow-up of the third-generation women.”

More information for those who think they may have been exposed to DES is available from the CDC. To learn more about the history of DES, visit this page. It points out that “In 1953, published research showed that DES did not prevent miscarriages or premature births.” In other words, the drug was prescribed for nearly two decades after it was demonstrated that it did not work for its intended purpose.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2008 6:37 am

    I can not believe that this drug was still prescribed for two decades, even though the medics knew it was not serving the purpose for why it was formulated in the beginning.

  2. March 19, 2008 11:40 am

    Kacy, unfortunately, there are more appalling stories like this in the history of clinical trials, and fortunately there are stronger protections in place now than their were at the time.

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