by: Tara Green
(NaturalNews) The first-ever lawsuit hinging on the link between DES and breast cancer may soon come to court in Boston. Fifty-three DES daughters are attempting to sue 14 drug manufacturers for the health consequences of one of the pharmaceutical industry's more notorious products.
The synthetic estrogen DES or diethylstilbestrol (day-eth-uhl-stil-bes'-trawl) was prescribed to millions of pregnant women from 1938 until 1971 to prevent miscarriages. In 1971, the FDA told doctors to stop prescribing the drug for pregnant women after a study indicated the pharmaceutical hormone broke through the uterine barrier and had an impact on children later in life. DES taken during pregnancy is linked to DES daughters developing a rare vaginal cancer in their teens and 20s. Since the early 70s, thousands of lawsuits have been filed regarding links between DES and cancers, as well as infertility problems. Many of those cases were settled out of court.
The Boston case is the first one to focus on the link between DES and breast cancer in DES daughters over the age of 40. Lawyers for the women suing the pharmaceutical firms are citing a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October 2011 which says DES daughters over age 40 have double the normal the risk of developing breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute study put the chance for DES daughters at 1 in 25, compared to a 1 in 50 chance for the average woman.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say that DES drug manufacturing companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly knew of the DES risks but suppressed the information. "This drug, DES, was the biggest human experiment of quackery in the history of medicine," said Aaron Levine, the attorney who filed the Boston lawsuit.
The drug companies deny the DES-breast cancer link. Eli Lilly's most recent annual report stated "We believe these claims are without merit and are prepared to defend against them vigorously." Drug companies state that the recent study is not conclusive and that there is no general acceptance in the medical community that fetal exposure to DES causes breast cancer. Lawyers for the pharmaceutical firms are moving for the case to be dismissed, arguing that the plaintiffs side is not scientifically reliable.
The judge in the case has heard testimony from experts on both sides. Final arguments on whether or not the case will go to trial are scheduled for January 19, 2012. Depending on whether the case goes to court and how it is decided, it may lead to similar cases by other DES daughters diagnosed with breast cancer.
Lingering health consequences of DES
Several of the DES daughters involved in the case say that, due to their knowledge of their mothers taking the drug while carrying them, they were extremely vigilant in regard to their health. They exercised, ate low fat diets, received the frequent screenings recommended by their doctors and avoided exposure to known risk factors such as birth control pills.
Yet they not only developed breast cancer, but in many cases, particularly fast-spreading versions of the cancer. One of the plaintiffs in the case, Arline MacCormack of Newton, Massachusetts, stated "The characteristics of my cancer were for women over 60 typically. It wasn't the type of cancer a 40-year-old or a 44-year-old woman gets." Another of the plaintiffs, Jackie White of Centerburg, Ohio, said she became suspicious that DES caused her cancer after seeing the high estrogen levels in her pathology reports.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet on DES and breast cancer makes note of the research linking the two. The federal agency's information sheet states "Studies have shown a 30 percent increased risk for breast cancer among women prescribed DES while pregnant than among women who weren't prescribed DES." The CDC also notes the recent National Cancer Institute research on DES daughters and while acknowledging that "findings of the study are not definitive," the agency recommends early detection of breast cancer for women exposed to DES.