DES is a synthetic estrogen, one of the first to be developed. In the early 1950s doctors started giving DES to pregnant women who had previously miscarried The theory was that women produce estrogen naturally and during pregnancy natural estrogen levels rise. Therefore, more estrogen would help a pregnancy. The practice spread and DES was given to women in something between 5 million to 10 million pregnancies over about twenty years.
The theory was wrong and dangerous. Not only did DES did not prevent miscarriages but research was published as early at 1953 that DES caused reproductive organ damages and cancers in lab animals. Yet doctors still prescribed DES until the FDA put out a warning in 1971.
From the Centers for Disease Control:
“DES is a drug once prescribed during pregnancy to prevent miscarriages or premature deliveries. In the US an estimated 5 to 10 million persons were exposed to DES from 1938 to 1971, including pregnant women prescribed DES and their children. In 1971, the Food and Drug Administration advised physicians to stop prescribing DES because it was linked to a rare vaginal cancer.
After more than 30 years of research, there are confirmed health risks associated with DES exposure. However, not all exposed individuals will experience DES-related health problems. Whether you know for sure or suspect you were exposed to DES, you can use CDC’s DES Update to learn more about DES exposure and what you can do about it.”
The mothers who were given DES while pregnant are at higher risk for breast cancer. The fetuses exposed to DES in utero, DES daughters and DES sons, are at higher risk for health problems — and now it seems likely that the next (third) generation is affected too. One of the very best places for non-medical people to learn more about DES is a not for profit organization DESAction.
There is no definitive test to to prove or confirm if you were either given DES or exposed to DES in utero. However, the CDC has a self-assessment guide to help determine if DES might be of concern to your or your family. Go to CDC’s Self-Assessment.
Suzanne B. Robotti