Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a synthetic nonsteroidal estrogen that was used to prevent miscarriage and other pregnancy complications between 1938 and 1971 in the United States. In 1971, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about the use of diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy after a relationship between exposure to this synthetic estrogen and the development of clear cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina and cervix was found in young women whose mothers had taken diethylstilbestrol while they were pregnant. Although diethylstilbestrol has not been given to pregnant women in the United States for more than 30 years, its effects continue to be seen. Women who took diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer than the general population and therefore should be encouraged to have regular mammography. Women who were exposed to diethylstilbestrol in utero may have structural reproductive tract anomalies, an increased infertility rate and poor pregnancy outcomes. However, the majority of these women have been able to deliver successfully. Recommendations for gynecologic examinations include vaginal and cervical digital palpation, which may provide the only evidence of clear cell adenocarcinoma. Initial colposcopic examination should be considered; if the findings are abnormal, colposcopy should be repeated annually. If the initial colposcopic examination is normal, annual cervical and vaginal cytology is recommended. Because of the higher risk of spontaneous abortion, ectopic pregnancy and preterm delivery, obstetric consultation may be required for pregnant women who had in utero diethylstilbestrol exposure. The male offspring of women who took diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy have an increased incidence of genital abnormalities and a possibly increased risk of prostate and testicular cancer. Routine prostate cancer screening and testicular self-examination should be encouraged.
- Diethylstilbestrol exposure, NCBI, PMID: 15168959, 2004 May 15;69(10):2395-400
- Full text – Diethylstilbestrol Exposure, American Family Physician, 2004/0515/p2395, 2004 May 15;69(10):2395-2400.
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