Between 1938 and 1971, thousands of pregnant women were prescribed diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic hormone, in order to prevent miscarriage or premature labor. By the 1960s, doctors began to realize that the drug was ineffective. In the 1970s DES was shown to increase cancer risk, both in the women who took the drug and in their daughters. Women who were exposed to DES before birth are known to experience reproductive system abnormalities, pregnancy complications, and infertility as well as increased cancer risk. In 1972, DES was labeled a dangerous drug and removed from the market.
The link between prenatal exposure to DES and clear cell adenocarcinoma, a rare vaginal and cervical cancer, is well supported. There is also limited evidence connecting DES to breast cancer. Fifty-one DES daughters who have been diagnosed with similar breast cancers have filed lawsuits against the companies that manufactured DES. Last week, the first of these lawsuits reached a settlement.
Francine Melnick, Andrea Andrews, Donna McNeely, and Michele Fecho are four sisters who were all exposed to DES before birth. All four women were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1997 and 2003. A fifth sister, who was not exposed to DES, did not contract breast cancer. The sisters believe the cancer was caused as a result of exposure to DES. They filed a lawsuit against Eli Lilly and Co., one of the companies that sold the dug in the 1950s. They believe that Eli Lilly is negligent because it did not test the drug’s effect on fetuses before promoting its use in pregnant women.
The trial began on Tuesday, January 8. On January 9 the sisters reached a settlement with the drug company. The settlement sets a precedent for future DES breast cancer cases.
Thousands of drug injury lawsuits have been filed against companies who made DES by women who have suffered from vaginal cancer, cervical cancer, and fertility problems. Most of those cases were settled.