The scope of adverse effects in males exposed to diethylstilbestrol (also called DES sons) has been a lot less documented than the effects in females (read post “DES Sons Numbers and Health Concerns“). However, a number of studies have confirmed and identified that DES sons are susceptible to a wide range of medical adverse effects associated with prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol.
Studies on DES Sons Health Issues
The most common abnormality in DES sons is epididymal cysts. The likelihood of DES sons having epididymal cysts ranges from 21% to 30%, in comparison with 5% to 8% of unexposed men (Gill, 1988; Gill et al., 1979).The epididymis is a structure on the back of each testicle where sperm are stored. Epididymal cysts are non-cancerous growths that feel like small lumps. They may disappear and recur over time. They do not need to be treated unless they are painful. However, all lumps should be reported to a doctor and testicular self-exams should be performed on a monthly basis.
Testicular problems in some men exposed to Di-Ethyl Stilbestrol® include both small testicles and undescended testicles. Both of these abnormalities are visible at birth. Men with undescended testicles have an increased chance of developing testicular cancer, even if their mothers didn’t take Di-Ethyl Stilbestrol®. The only definitive prospective study to date of the association between in utero exposure to diethylstilbestrol and testicular cancer indicated that levels of testicular cancer were elevated, though not to a statistically significant extent, among DES-exposed men (Strohsnitter et al., 2001). The study found it unlikely that DES exposure is heavily associated with testicular cancer, but concluded that the findings did “lend support to the hypothesis that the prenatal hormonal environment may influence the development of testicular cancer in adults” and suggest follow-up study of DES men for increased risk of testicular cancer.
Some studies have also indicated that testicular varicoceles occur more often in DES sons than in other men. A varicocele is an irregularly swollen or varicose vein on the testicle. This enlarged vein produces a higher temperature than is normal for testicles, and over a period of years can lower the number of normal sperm as a result.
Studies of the psychological effects of DES exposure are limited, but evidence has been found that diethylstilbestrol is linked with increased likelihood of various psychological and neurological impairments. This includes anxiety, major depressive disorder, and other mood disorders (in DES sons and daughters).
Studies of cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases among DES sons are ongoing.
Studies on DES Sons and Infertility
There has been some concerns amongst DES sons that their DES exposure might be linked to infertility. Although one study found a lower sperm count in men exposed to diethylstilbestrol compared with unexposed men (Gill, 1979), a 40-year follow-up study of DES sons found no increased risk of infertility among men exposed to DES before birth (Wilcox, 1995). The men in this study were all born between 1950 and 1953.
The health issues shared by DES sons include but are not limited to the above identified health problems. Prenatal exposure to Di-Ethyl Stilbestrol® is responsible for a wide range of not only medical but personal and social adverse effects. Further study and monitoring of these effects on men is critically needed.
If you suspect or know that you are a DES son, tell your doctor and be sure to learn about the most common symptoms associated with the conditions referenced on this page. The scope of adverse effects in DES sons is less documented than the effects in DES daughters but you are not alone and support is available through the DES Sons International Network. Consider joining the DES community on facebook and twitter.
DES Sons (Part 2) to be continued – read our next post on DES Exposure and Gender Identity.