Cancer: Synthetic drug taken by thousands linked to cancer – are you affected?


Cancer causes cells in specific parts of your body to grow and reproduce uncontrollably. Now, a certain drug previously taken during pregnancy to prevent miscarriages and to dry up milk has been linked to this potentially life-threatening disease. This risk doesn’t only affect those who took the drug but also their children and grandchildren.

Generations of women are calling for an investigation into a drug called Diethylstilbestrol (DES).

It’s estimated that around 10,000 patients took this synthetic drug during their pregnancy, reports The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

However, because there are no records, the actual scale remains unknown. 

The synthetic oestrogen drug was used to prevent miscarriages or to dry up milk.

Diethylstilbestrol may potentially cause health conditions, including cancer, early menopause and infertility, reports the National Cancer Institute.

READ MORE: ‘Nearly as bad as smoking’: The popular food that quadruples the risk of dying from cancer

What is Diethylstilbestrol?

Diethylstilbestrol is a synthetic form of the female hormone oestrogen. 

Oestrogen has various roles in our bodies, ranging from controlling puberty to strengthening bones.

The synthetic version of the hormone known as DES was prescribed to pregnant women between the years 1940 and 1971.

It was used to prevent various complications, such as miscarriages and premature labour. 

However, the use of DES for preventing these problems proved not effective around 1950.


After, it remained being used to stop lactation or as emergency contraception.

The synthetic drug was first linked to certain types of cancer in 1971 in a small group of women, the research explains.

Following this finding, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alerted the health care providers in the USA that DES should not be prescribed to pregnant women.

But the drug continued to be prescribed to these women in Europe until 1978.

The risk of cancer is not only present for those who took the drug but also for their children and grandchildren.

The research reports that the children exposed to DES in the uterus have a higher risk of developing cancer, such as breast and pancreatic cancer.

Daughters of mothers, who took the pill during pregnancy, are now being referred to as DES daughters.

Cancer isn’t the only risk posed for DES daughters as several studies suggest they might also struggle from problems like premature birth, miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.

Men exposed to the drug in the uterus, known as DES sons, have a higher risk of testicular abnormalities and possibly testicular cancer.

DES could also affect grandchildren of women who took the drug. Researchers are currently looking into how DES may cause DNA changes as some research suggests that third generation may also have a higher risk of cancer.

Marion McMillan, 73, was given DES 50 years ago to dry up her breast milk, Now, she suffers from terminal cancer, Daily Mail reports.

McMillan said: “I think it’s worse than Thalidomide [drug linked to many deaths and birth defects in children] because your subsequent children and grandchildren could be affected.”

Diethylstilbestrol is still used today to treat prostate cancer and breast cancer in post-menopausal women.

Last night, MPs and people affected called for an investigation into DES and a public awareness campaign to identify victims.

The Department of Health of Social Care said: “We support the position of the independent regulator.

“Decisions to prescribe particular drugs must be made by clinicians based on a patient’s medical needs, taking into account relevant clinical guidance.”



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