Diethylstilbestrol (DES) was the first synthetic estrogen to be created. Never patented, it was cheap and easy to produce, so DES was made by hundreds of drug companies in the U.S. and around the world. DES was prescribed to millions of pregnant women in the mistaken belief that it could prevent miscarriage. It did not work but instead, DES harmed the mothers, the children born of those pregnancies and possibly the grandchildren and beyond.
Prenatal DES exposure is associated with reproductive cancers (including breast cancer), infertility, and structural changes of the reproductive tract. Research is continuing with new adverse health impacts being identified. The DES experience is a true medical tragedy brought on by less than adequate drug testing, heavy promotion by pharmaceutical companies bent on making a profit and lax government regulation. While DES is no longer prescribed for human use, those who were exposed to this endocrine disrupting drug are left dealing with the health and emotional consequences it caused.