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DES Concerns: The Next Generation
For nearly 30 years, pregnant women who’d had repeated miscarriages jumped at the chance to take a pill that promised a “96 percent chance’’ of delivering a baby with “no gastric or other side effects,’’ as one advertisement from the 1950s read. Then came a landmark paper from the New England Journal of Medicine — published 40 years ago this month — which linked the drug, called diethylstilbestrol or DES, to a very rare form of vaginal cancer in eight young Boston women ages 15 to 22 years old. Further research found infertility problems in nearly one-third of the estimated 2.4 million DES daughters, as well as a possible increased risk of breast cancer in the 4.8 million DES mothers. And now there are hints that DES could be affecting a third generation, with a study published in 2009 showing a possible increased risk of birth defects in the babies of DES daughters, and a 2008 finding suggesting a slight uptick in ovarian cancers in DES granddaughters.