In what will be the first of several lawsuits, four sisters are suing the drug company Eli Lilly and Co., the former maker of for Diethylstilbestrol (DES), a pregnancy drug that was once prescribed to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage and premature birth. It was first taken off the market in the 1970s, after it was linked to a rare vaginal cancer, but has since been linked to many other reproductive health problems, including breast cancer. And now, so-called “DES daughters” are starting to head to federal court over the fallout.
The first case started today, with a case from Donna, Michele, Andrea and Francine Melnick–four sisters whose mother took DES at the time of their gestation, and who have all been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Their sister Mary Ann, who hasn’t developed breast cancer, was the only daughter for whom the mother didn’t take DES while pregnant. (Like many women, the mother was prescribed DES to boost estrogen levels during pregnancy, which was thought to protect against miscarriage and premature birth, but has since been proven not to be the case.)
For their defense, the drug company says the Melnicks have no proof that they’re even DES daughters; the mother and her doctor are both deceased, and they claim there are no medical records to confirm that she took the pregnancy drug. But there’s little doubt that the drug had dangerous side effects that weren’t disclosed to the women taking it; which the CDC says include the following:
- Clear cell adenocarcinoma (CCA), a rare kind of vaginal and cervical cancer (risk is highest for DES daughters in their teens and twenties, though it can impact older women, too)
- Reproductive tract structural differences (for example, T-shaped uterus)
- Pregnancy complications, such as ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and pre-term delivery
Thousands of cases have been settled in the past over the drug’s link to cervical cancer, and now, the Melnicks are just four of 51 women who are taking over a dozen drug companies to federal court over the above side effects.
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Photo: flickr user mbaylor