Screening for DES Daughters

Cervical and vaginal cancers are higher risk in women exposed to DES in utero

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Regular cervical screenings are never a bad idea - especially for ladies born between 1947-1971, if their moms were given diethylstilbestrol to prevent miscarrying or premature birth.

A recent study found a slightly higher ratio of a rare cervical and vaginal cancer in women exposed to diethylstilbestrol in the womb.

Researchers found exposed women were most likely to develop cancer between the ages of 40-54. Cervical screenings can detect abnormal cell growths.

"Exposed to DES? Get a Pap smear."

Mary C. White, ScD, MPH, from the Epidemiology and Applied Research Branch in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, led the investigation.

Diethylstibestrol (DES) was mistakenly given to pregnant women from the early 1940s to 1971 to help prevent miscarriages and pre-term births. DES was taken off the market for causing gynecological cancers in females exposed to DES in utero. The CDC reports, 2 to 4 million women were given DES while pregnant between 1947-1971 in the US.

For the study, the National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR) and Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program were scanned for women born between 1947-1971 who developed cervical or vaginal cancers.

Researchers were specifically looking for a rare type of cervical and vaginal cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma (CCA), which is believed to be linked to DES exposure.

CCA was highest in women exposed to DES, also called “DES Daughters”, when they were between the ages of 40-54. When compared to women born before 1947 or after 1971 the DES Daughters had a 4.55 higher incidence ratio for CCA.

Authors concluded, “[O]ur findings suggest that the large number of women exposed in utero to DES in the United States may still be at special risk for CCA as they grow older.”

Authors recommend women exposed to DES in utero get frequent screenings for cervical cancer and breast cancer.

This study was published in January in Cancer Causes & Control. Funding was provided by the Research Participation Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 3, 2012
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014