DES Daughters Seek Legal Action, Claim Breast Cancer Link

Studies suggest DES linked to reproductive health problems.

ByABC News
January 9, 2012, 4:28 PM

Jan. 10, 2012— -- Jackie White, 48, of Centerburg, Ohio, says she knew she was a so-called "DES daughter" since her the early teens.

White says her mother told her she took DES while pregnant. The synthetic estrogen was intended at the time to prevent birth complications and miscarriage. But a decade after White was born, researchers found the hormone broke through the uterine barrier and left many children whose mothers took the hormone at risk for reproductive complications.

Since then, she says she was hypervigilant when it came to her reproductive health and received routine mammograms and gynecological exams. But it wasn't White's lower reproductive health that she had to worry about. In 2010, White was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

"I knew the risks of being a DES daughter, I did everything they told you to do, I had good doctors, I was faithful about my screening and knew my risk," said White. "But I was nowhere close prepared for breast cancer."

White is now one of 53 women suing 14 major DES drug manufacturers in a first ever lawsuit alleging a link between DES and breast cancer.

A study released October 2011 in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that DES daughters over age 40 have twice the risk of getting breast cancer, which plaintiff lawyers suggest support their case. According to public records and court testimony, experts brought forth by the pharmaceutical companies deny any link between DES and breast cancer.

The lawsuit plaintiffs also allege that drug manufacturing companies like Eli Lilly and Bristol-Myers Squibb, Co. withheld information about the DES risks from physicians.

A spokesman for Eli Lilly pointed ABC News to a financial disclosure form which stated, "We believe these claims are without merit and are prepared to defend against them vigorously."

Eli Lilly declined to comment further. Bristol-Myers Squibb, Co. declined to comment.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 5 to 10 million people were exposed to DES between 1938 and 1971, including mothers, sons, daughters, and grandchildren.

In 1971, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised physicians against prescribing DES to pregnant women because it was linked to a rare vaginal cancer in some daughters.

More than 30 years worth of research now suggests that both men and women born to mothers who took DES during pregnancy may be at higher risk of developing reproductive complications including cysts, cancer, and infertility, according to the CDC.

White said she didn't recognize the purported link at first because she had no family history of breast cancer.

"I never thought to tell [my breast surgeon] I was a DES daughter," she said.

Now, even though she's in remission, White says the effort she's put in for her own health is not enough. She's on a mission to help others.

"My intent is to get responsibility for awareness out there," said White. "I hope that the judge rules that there's valid science here."

The pre-trial hearing is scheduled to wrap up at a federal court in Boston on January 19.

ABC News' Elizabeth Chuang contributed to this report