In utero DES exposure and later mammary tumorigenesis

Transplacental effects of diethylstilbestrol on mammary development and tumorigenesis in female ACI rats

1987 Study Abstract

Female ACI rats were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) transplacentally and followed to 10 months of age to assess the effect of the drug on mammary development and tumorigenesis.

Pregnant rats were given injections of vehicle (sesame oil) or DES (total dose, 0.8 micrograms = low DES or 8.0 micrograms = high DES) on days 15 and 18 of gestation. Pellets containing 2.5 mg DES + 17.5 mg cholesterol (DES pellet) or 20 mg cholesterol (chol pellet) were implanted s.c. into 12-week-old female offspring, creating 6 experimental groups:

  1. vehicle exposure + chol pellet
  2. vehicle exposure + DES pellet;
  3. low DES exposure + chol pellet
  4. low DES exposure + DES pellet;
  5. high DES exposure + chol pellet
  6. high DES exposure + DES pellet.

At sacrifice, representative mammary tissue and all palpable mammary tumors were removed for histopathological analysis. Each of the 6 experimental groups contained a minimum of 32 rats from at least 14 litters. In computation of data, the unit of analysis was the litter. Groups which had received any DES (prenatally or postnatally) were found to have elongated nipples and enlarged pituitaries. The mammary gland whole mounts from all rats in groups 4 and 6 displayed extensive lobuloalveolar proliferation comparable to that seen in DES pellet controls (group 2). Mammary glands of approximately 75% of rats in groups 3 and 5 were categorized as showing the lowest grade of differentiation while this undifferentiated condition was seen in only 36% of group I controls. No palpable mammary tumors were found in rats exposed to vehicle in utero (group 1). But in group 5, a total of 6 tumors in 5 animals derived from 4 different litters were obtained, a difference shown to be statistically significant. Group 3 had 1 rat with 8 tumors. Among rats bearing the DES pellet, tumor latency was shortened significantly in both groups exposed to DES in utero. By 22 weeks after pellet implantation, 100% of the DES-exposed litters (groups 4 and 6) contained at least 1 tumor-bearing rat compared to about 50% of the tumor-bearing litters in group 2. Tumor multiplicity at sacrifice was increased significantly in the group exposed prenatally to the higher dose of DES.

Histologically, the overwhelming majority of palpable mammary tumors from all tumor-bearing treatment groups were classified as adenocarcinomas. Prenatal exposure to DES did not alter the ratio of malignant to benign lesions observed, nor did it affect the degree of differentiation noted in the adenocarcinomas.


  • Transplacental effects of diethylstilbestrol on mammary development and tumorigenesis in female ACI rats, Cancer research, PMID: 3607779, 1987 Aug.

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