'Silent Thalidomide': Thousands of mothers and their daughters at risk of cancer from anti-miscarriage drugs they took decades ago
Recent study found drug doubled risk of breast cancer in DES daughters aged over 40
Around 2,000 women have brought cases against drug companies in America after DES exposure
Thousands of women whose mothers were prescribed the common pregnancy drug DES are unaware they are at greater risk of a number of cancers, according to experts.
The drug, whose full name is diethylstilboestrol, was widely prescribed between 1938 and 1971 in the false belief it could help reduce the risk of miscarriage.
But in 1971 researchers found a link between DES and vaginal cancer in daughters of the women given the medicine.
Hundreds of thousands of pregnant mothers are estimated to have been exposed to DES but there is no confirmed figure
Recent studies have also linked the drug to other cancers in these women.
A recent study led by Dr Robert Hoover
at America's National Cancer Institute found DES daughters aged over 40
had nearly double the risk of developing breast cancer by the age of 55.
daughters are also 40 times more likely to develop a rare form of
cervical and vaginal cancer than unexposed women. However, the NHS says
the associated risk is small.
Around 2,000 affected women in the U.S have brought cases
against drug companies, with an estimated $1.5billion paid
out so far in compensation. However, no such cases have been brought in Britain.
Now Washington-based lawyer Aaron Levine is to travel to the UK in two weeks to organise a hunt for the so-called 'DES daughters' who have been unable to claim compensation in the British courts, the Independent on Sunday reported.
Mr Levine, who has represented women in the US who have been affected by it, told the newspaper the drug was “quackery”.
He said: 'It never worked. It was like leeches or bleeding or copper rings. It didn't do anything positive for anyone and didn't help anyone's pregnancy.'
He has secured more than $100million so far in out-of-court settlements.
The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology estimates that 7,500 women in the UK were given the drug, resulting in 3,500 exposed daughters.
However, other reports have estimated up
to 300,000 people have been exposed. What is more, early studies on
rats suggest the effects of DES can even be felt in the third
generation, meaning grandchildren could even be affected.
Ongoing struggle: Heather Justice, 59, is the first recorded 'DES daughter' in Britain
Heather Justice, 59, from Jarrow was the
first recorded 'DES daughter'. she developed vaginal cancer when she
was 25 and had to undergo a hysterectomy.
Her mother was given DES in
the 1950s but she hasn't been able to go to court as she doesn't know
which manufacturer produced the drug.
'Unlike Thalidomide, where you can see the problem the minute the baby was born, women who took DES had healthy babies,' she told the newspaper.
'Problems were hidden until the teens and twenties, by which point were forgotten about.'
The Department of Health has suggested any compensation awarded would be a matter for the drug companies and not the Government.
A spokeswoman said: 'This is clearly a complex issue and one that is of great importance to those affected. The department recognises the concerns of people who believe they have been adversely affected by diethylstilbestrol and has every sympathy with them.
'With regard to compensation for people who believe they have been adversely affected by this drug, this is a matter for the manufacturer(s) and/or the UK licensees of the drug.'
However, MP Andy Slaughter said the UK should not fall back on its typical approach of 'burying mistakes' and it might be possible for patients to sue the NHS directly.