Hypospadias in DES grandsons : a cohort study

Hypospadias: a transgenerational effect of diethylstilbestrol ?

2002 Study Abstract

Transgenerational effects of diethylstilbestrol (DES) have been reported in animals, but effects in human beings are unknown. Alerted by two case reports, we aimed to establish the risk of hypospadias in the sons of women who were exposed to DES in utero.

We did a cohort study of all sons of a Dutch cohort of 16284 women with a diagnosis of fertility problems. We used a mailed questionnaire assessing late effects of fertility treatment to identify boys with hypospadias. We compared the prevalence rate of hypospadias between boys with and without maternal DES exposure in utero.

16284 mothers (response rate 67%) reported 8934 sons. The mothers of 205 boys reported DES exposure in utero. Four of these children were reported to have hypospadias. In the remaining 8729 children, only eight cases of hypospadias were reported (prevalence ratio 21.3 [95% CI 6.5-70.1]). All cases of hypospadias were medically confirmed. Maternal age or fertility treatment did not affect the risk of hypospadias. Children conceived after assisted reproductive techniques such as in-vitro fertilisation were not at increased risk of hypospadias compared with children conceived naturally (1.8, 0.6-5.7).

Our findings suggest an increased risk of hypospadias in the sons of women exposed to DES in utero. Although the absolute risk of this anomaly is small, this transgenerational effect of DES warrants additional studies.


  • Hypospadias in sons of women exposed to diethylstilbestrol in utero: a cohort study, Lancet, NCBI PubMed PMID: 11943257, 2002 Mar 30.
  • Featured image Donna Borzyskowski.

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