Boston Arline MacCormack first heard about DES from her mother when she was 17.
Three decades later, MacCormack believes that the drug her mother took to prevent miscarriages caused her to develop breast cancer at age 44.
MacCormack, of Newton, is one of 53 women from around the country who are suing drug companies who made and promoted DES for millions of pregnant women from about 1938 to the early 1970s. In 1971, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told doctors to stop prescribing DES for their pregnant patients after a study found that taking DES during pregnancy appeared to increase the risk of developing a rare vaginal cancer years later for DES daughters in their teens and 20s.
DES, or diethylstilbestrol (dahy-eth-uhl-stil-bes’-trawl), is a synthetic estrogen that was prescribed to millions of women in the United States, Europe and other countries to prevent miscarriages, premature birth and other problems.
The case in Boston is being closely watched by DES daughters around the country. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed since the 1970s alleging links between DES and cervical and vaginal cancer, as well as infertility problems. Many of those cases were settled before trial. The Boston case is believed to be the first major litigation alleging a link between DES and breast cancer in DES daughters over the age of 40.
MacCormack, now 50, said she was stunned when she was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago after having mammograms every six months since she turned 40 because she had had several benign cysts removed over the years.
The women’s lawyers say their case is supported by a recent study that suggests that breast cancer risk is nearly doubled in DES daughters over the age of 40. The average woman has about a 1 in 50 chance of developing breast cancer by 55. The study, led by Dr. Robert Hoover, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute, found that the chance for DES daughters is 1 in 25.