DES (diethylstilbesttrol) is a synthetic estrogen that was once prescribed to millions of women across the world in order to prevent miscarriages, premature births and other issues. The drug was manufactured, marketed and sold by pharmaceutical companies from 1938 until the early 1970’s. However, in 1971, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered that doctors stop prescribing the drug for their pregnant patients, after a study revealed that the use of DES during pregnancy could increase the risk of developing a rare vaginal cancer.
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed since the 1970’s, claiming links between DES and cervical and vaginal cancer, most of which were settled before ever making it to trial. This month, a trial in Boston is believed to be one of the first major DES-related cases to allege a link between use of the drug and breast cancer in DES-daughters over the age of 40. The plaintiff, Arline MacCormack, was made aware of DES by her when she was only 17 years old. Thirty years later, MacCormack believes that the drug her mother took in order to prevent a miscarriage has caused her to develop breast cancer at the young age of 44.
MacCormack is among the more than 50 women across the country who are suing the makers of DES. Moreover, her lawsuit alleges that 14 drug makers, including Eli Lilly and Bristol-Myers Squibb, withheld FDA reports that showed information about the safety of DES from doctors.