Diethylstilbestrol  An Unfortunate Medical LegacyYou’re bound to come away from your pregnancy having learned an entirely new set of acronyms.  One such acronym is DES.  DES stands for diethylstilbestrol.  DES is a synthetic form of the hormone estrogen.  During a thirty year span from approximately 1940 to 1970, it was common medical practice to prescribe DES to prevent miscarriages and premature labor.  DES was widely administered in the past—estimates are that as many as 10 million American women received this synthetic hormone.  At the time, the medical community believed prescribing artificial estrogen could help avoid pregnancy complications.  However, studies soon indicated that DES was not an effective solution.

In the 70s, scientists found a link to babies exposed to DES and cancer.  Specifically, mothers who took DES gave birth to children who had higher risks of developing cervical cancer and clear cell adenocarcinoma.  The Food and Drug Administration recommended against DES as a hormone for pregnant women not long after.  Further studies confirmed DES’s ability to cause cancer among other issues, including birth defects.  Although many mothers who received DES did not experience any side effects, their children did.

How Can This Impact Me?
According to data compiled by the National Cancer Institute, daughters of women who received DES may experience greater issues with fertility and healthy pregnancies.  Their website offers a chart that compiles the recent data on seven potential fertility problems ranging from infertility to second trimester miscarriages.

Unfortunately, the effects of DES seem to be long-lasting.  The National Cancer Institute also compiled data from multiple studies which suggests that granddaughters of women who received diethylstilbestrol – DES may not only begin menstruation later and experience irregular menstrual cycles, but they also may experience greater infertility rates as well as higher cancer risks.  However, this population is continuing to be studied and data is still be collected and examined.

What Can I Do?
First, if you were born within the thirty-year time period, ask your mother if she remembers receiving the drug.  A full list of the drug’s multiple names is available here.  Your mother may not remember; however, her medical records may be available.  Try to contract the doctor or hospital where she gave birth and request her medical records, if available.  Ultimately, there may not be much you can do.

Knowledge is power; however, in the case of DES, there are no corrective actions to be taken.  However, if you are a DES daughter or granddaughter, knowing such may provide a bit of comfort if you experience any type of complication in conceiving or carrying a child.  The circumstances of your prenatal issues may be beyond your control.