Today in depressing: a widely-used anti-miscarriage drug that didn't actually work has been found to cause breast cancer, infertility, and a whole mess of other problems in the daughters of women who used it while pregnant. The drug's crappy effects are so far reaching that researchers also suspect that it may cause reproductive health issues in the granddaughters of women who used it.
The Associated Press reports that the drug, an artificial form of estrogen called DES (diethylstilbestrol), was often prescribed to pregnant women in pill or cream form between 1940 and 1960. When it was discovered that the teenage daughters of women who used it were mysteriously coming down with a rare form of vaginal cancer, the drug was discontinued in 1971. Doctors long suspected the negative effects of the drug, and its cumulative harm will be first documented in research to be published in The New England Journal of Medicine this week.
As suspected, the drug's disastrous effects are long reaching and devastating. Daughters of DES experience a Murderers' Row of female health headaches — they're twice as likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than non-DES women, nearly twice as likely to have pre-cancerous cervical cells, twice as likely to experience long term infertility, and were three times as likely to experience early menopause. DES daughters who were able to become pregnant were much more likely to experience miscarriage, preterm delivery, high blood pressure during pregnancy, tubal pregnancy, and stillbirth.
Now doctors are concerned that the granddaughters of women who took DES while pregnant may be at risk for reproductive health issues. Early research suggests the second generation of DES daughters begins menstruating later than their peers and experiences irregular periods, both of which could be signs of future fertility problems.
Sons of DES mothers aren't off the hook, either; they're more likely to develop testicular cysts and other problems than their peers.
The one bright spot in this tornado of bad news — DES only effects children of women whose mothers took the drug while pregnant with them, and thus siblings of DES daughters and sons are off the hook, aside from the fact that your sister is much more likely to get cancer.
There's no way to tell whether your mother or grandmother used DES apart from examining her medical chart (and often doctors' offices don't hold onto medical charts for long), but any woman who was pregnant between 1938 and 1971 who had mid-pregnancy complications or previous miscarriages may have been prescribed the drug. It's estimated that between 4 and 10 million people were exposed.
DES was generic and produced by multiple drug manufacturers, many of whom currently face class action lawsuits totaling approximately $SHITLOADS.
Image via MichaelTaylor/Shutterstock