The effects in the human of diethylstilbestrol (DES) use during pregnancy

An update, 1987


(DES Daughters) Intrauterine diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure is associated with an increased risk for the development of clear cell adenocarcinoma (CCA) of the vagina and cervix. The age of the patients at diagnosis has varied from 7-35 years with the highest frequency from 14-22 years. The risk among the exposed, however, is small and is of the order of 1 per 1,000. Almost all of the cases occur in postmenarchal females. Other factors that may increase the risk are maternal history of prior miscarriage, exposure to DES in early gestation, a fall season of birth and prematurity. The occurrence of CCA has paralleled the sales of DES for pregnancy support in the U.S. Both vaginal adenosis (benign glands in the vagina) and CCA are more frequent among those whose mothers began DES in early pregnancy. An increased risk of squamous cell neoplasia has been hypothesized but not proven. The changes that occur in the female genital tract of the DES exposed appear to result from alterations in the development of the mullerian ducts.

Currently there is not definitive evidence for an elevated risk of cancer among DES mothers or DES sons but studies have suggested a possible increase of breast cancer in the former group and testicular cancer in the latter group; a valid association has not been established in either.


  • The effects in the human of diethylstilbestrol (DES) use during pregnancy, NCBI PubMed, PMID: 3506546, 1987.
  • Featured image Mathieu Bigard.

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