Women whose mothers took a popular anti-miscarriage drug have an astronomically high risk of rare vaginal and cervical cancers - and continue to face a higher rate of death, a new study warns.
DES, a synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol, was popular among mothers-to-be between 1938 and 1971 as it was promoted as a way to prevent miscarriage and avoid premature births.
Roughly five million to 10 million fetuses worldwide were exposed to the drug before a paper confirmed fears it increased the risk of clear-cell adenocarcinoma (CCA) in female offspring - after years of speculation.
Now, it is well-documented that so-called DES daughters need to be closely monitored for rare cancers - and that they also carry an increased risk of pregnancy complications, infertility and structural abnormalities in the reproductive tract.
But the new study by the University of Chicago Medicine reveals that even still, decades later, we have done little to protect these women from the dangers they have inherited.
DES, a synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol, was used by mothers-to-be between 1938 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage and avoid premature births. Pictured: an ad for the drug in 1970
Lead author Dezheng Huo found that for DES-exposed women diagnosed with CCA, the death rate from all causes was five times higher at ages 35 to 49 and twice as high for women 50 to 65, compared to unexposed women in the same age groups.
'We found that patients with clear-cell adenocarcinoma had increased mortality across their lifespan,' Huo and his team write in the study published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The highest risk was seen when the cancer had been diagnosed in adolescents or young adults.
For those with a diagnosis between ages 10 and 34, the odds of death were 27-fold higher compared to the general female population in the same age ranges. The tumor is normally rare