Boston lawsuit claims DES-breast cancer link

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Boston lawsuit claims link between anti-miscarriage drug and breast cancer in daughters

By Denise Lavoie, AP Legal Affairs Writer

January 10, 2012

In this Dec. 13, 2011 photo, breast cancer survivor Arline MacCormack speaks with a reporter at her home in Newton, Mass. A study has confirmed that the drug DES, which millions of pregnant women took decades ago to prevent miscarriage and complications, has put their daughters at higher risk for breast cancer and other health problems that are showing up now. MacCormack is one of 53 women from around the country who are suing drug companies who made and promoted DES for millions of pregnant women from about 1938 to the early 1970s. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON (AP) — Arline MacCormack first heard about DES from her mother when she was 17. Three decades later, MacCormack believes that the drug her mother took to prevent miscarriages caused her to develop breast cancer at age 44.

MacCormack, of Newton, is one of 53 women from around the country who are suing drug companies who made and promoted DES for millions of pregnant women from about 1938 to the early 1970s. In 1971, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told doctors to stop prescribing DES for their pregnant patients after a study found that taking DES during pregnancy appeared to increase the risk of developing a rare vaginal cancer years later for DES daughters in their teens and 20s.

DES, or diethylstilbestrol (dahy-eth-uhl-stil-bes’-trawl), is a synthetic estrogen that was prescribed to millions of women in the United States, Europe and other countries to prevent miscarriages, premature birth and other problems.

The case in Boston is being closely watched by DES daughters around the country. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed since the 1970s alleging links between DES and cervical and vaginal cancer, as well as infertility problems. Many of those cases were settled before trial. The Boston case is believed to be the first major litigation alleging a link between DES and breast cancer in DES daughters over the age of 40.

MacCormack, now 50, said she was stunned when she was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago after having mammograms every six months since she turned 40 because she had had several benign cysts removed over the years.

“The characteristics of my cancer were for women over 60 typically. It wasn’t the type of cancer a 40-year-old or a 44-year-old woman gets,” said MacCormack.

“When I read the research that’s been done, I found I had more chance of getting it because my mom took DES,” she said.

The women’s lawyers say their case is supported by a recent study that suggests that breast cancer risk is nearly doubled in DES daughters over the age of 40. The average woman has about a 1 in 50 chance of developing breast cancer by 55. The study, led by Dr. Robert Hoover, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute, found that the chance for DES daughters is 1 in 25.

The lawsuit alleges that 14 drug manufacturers — including Eli Lilly and Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.— withheld from doctors and the FDA reports that showed DES did not prevent miscarriages and raised serious questions about the safety of the drug.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.