Drug Company Settles in Court Case Linking Pregnancy Drug to Breast CancerS

Eli Lilly & Co., a pharmaceutical company that produced and distributed DES, a synthetic estrogen also known as diethylstilbestrol, to expectant mothers from the 1950s until the 1970s (when the drug was taken off the market after being linked to a rare type of vaginal cancer in several of the daughters of the women who used it) has settled a lawsuit in Massachusetts with four sisters who claim that the drug, taken by their mother, caused all of them to develop breast cancer in their 40s.

The settlement could herald a turning of the tide for both medical malpractice suits in relation to DES and medical malpractice suits in general. Says Boston lawyer Andrew Meyer, "When one settles a case, they recognize they can lose it. The reason they can lose it is because there's enough evidence for the plaintiffs to be able to win it. So it's not just optics, it isn't." Eli Lilly settled after a mere two days in court.

51 women have similar cases filed against DES producers in Boston alone. The drug, which was initially given to expecting mothers to prevent miscarriages (which it didn't do, by the way), has been linked to a variety of medical issues in these women's daughters. These "daughters of DES" have been shown to suffer everything from fertility issues to breast, cervical and vaginal cancer.

According to the lawyer of the four Melnick sisters (who have also experienced miscarriages and fertility problems in addition to breast cancer), the women's mother took DES throughout all four of their gestations, but not for the gestation of the fifth Melnick sister who is free of health problems.

Irene Sawyer of Columbus, OH. — a woman who is also suing Eli Lilly for allegedly causing her breast cancer (her mother, too, took DES) tells the Associated Press that the Melnick's settlement is a "huge victory" for DES daughters:

"The bottom line is that this company put out a drug without testing, without knowing the consequences of this drug," she said.

It's wonderful, she said, that drug companies "are starting to realize this is not right, that there are consequences."

Eli Lilly Settles Mass. Pregnancy Drug-Cancer Case [NYT]
Image via Lisa S./Shutterstock.