DES (diethylstilbestrol) has been used since 1983, and was thought to prevent miscarriages in the first trimester of pregnancy. It was used from 1983 to the late 1990s and is a synthetic form of estrogen that was prescribed to millions of women in the US, Europe and elsewhere around the world. The FDA first approved DES to treat gonorrheal vaginitis, atrophic vaginitis and symptoms caused by menopause. It was later approved by the FDA for other treatments including the prevention of miscarriage.
Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of DES, stopped manufacturing and selling the drug in 1997. This was because DES had become linked with serious birth defects and side effects.
DES has been thought to cause cancer in the offspring of DES users. People affected by DES through their mother’s use of the drug have been dubbed “DES daughters” and “DES sons.”
One study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine involved eight women who suffered from vaginal clear cell adenocarcinoma. Out of those eight women, seven of them were DES daughters. It was also concluded from the study that DES is a carcinogen. DES daughters have also been seen to have side effects such as vaginal abnormalities, vaginal cancer, T-shaped uterus and increased risks of infertility.
DES sons have had side effects such as non-cancerous epididymal cysts and left-handedness.
In a study sponsored by the federal government, researchers looked at 4,653 DES daughter compared to 1,927 women who were not exposed to DES in the womb. In every category studied, DES daughters had a higher incidence rate of side effects. Some of the side effects included breast cancer, cervical pre-cancer, infertility and early menopause. In women who were able to become pregnant, DES daughters had a higher incidence of preterm delivery, miscarriage, tubal pregnancy, stillbirth and high blood pressure during pregnancy.
DES has had serious side effects that have not only affected the user, but also their offspring. The effects of this drug are still being seen today.