Four sisters are suing Eli Lilly and Co., an Indianapolis-based drug company and former maker of a synthetic estrogen drug called diethylstilbestrol (DES) after each sister suffered breast cancer, miscarriages, fertility issues and other reproductive tract problems, which they suspect has a connection to their mother’s DES prescription during pregnancy. The women argue that Eli Lilly and Co. did not adequately test the drug or warn users of the risks to their daughters if they take it while pregnant.
Women have filed thousands of lawsuits that connect exposure to DES with vaginal and cervical cancer and fertility problems. The sisters are among 51 women who have lawsuits pending in Boston against more than a dozen manufacturers of DES.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told doctors to stop prescribing DES to pregnant women in 1971 after a study found that the drug appeared to increase the risk of rare vaginal cancer in their daughters. A study at the National Cancer Institute found the likelihood of a DES daughter developing breast cancer by age 55 is about one in 25, whereas the risk is one in 50 for the average woman. Newer studies have shown DES does not even prevent miscarriages.
These lawsuits will hopefully prompt more women to ask their mothers if they took DES. This knowledge could motivate earlier cancer screenings and potentially save lives.