The New Mother-Daughter Breast Cancer Risk

According to a new report, millions of women are haunted by a hormone their mothers took years earlier when they were trying to prevent miscarriages.

By Health Editors
breast cancer pink ribbon stethescope des daughters picture
Photograph: mark wragg

If you want to stay on top of your health risks, talk to your mom about her pregnancy. During the 40s, 50s and 60s doctors prescribed an early synthetic estrogen called diethylstilbestrol, or DES, to millions of pregnant women in an attempt to prevent miscarriages. Not only did the chemical not prevent miscarriages, but in the 1970s doctors discovered that young women who had been exposed to it in utero were at a heightened risk for a rare vaginal cancer. And now a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine tallies about a dozen more DES-related disorders. Compared to women who weren’t exposed to the chemical, DES daughters are five times more likely to deliver a premature baby, nearly four times more likely to suffer a second-trimester miscarriage, almost four times more likely to experience an ectopic pregnancy, and are considerably more likely to be infertile, suffer a spontaneous abortion, have a stillbirth, develop a dangerous condition called preeclampsia during pregnancy, have early menopause and have early signs of uterine cancer, according to the new study. There is also a subgroup of DES daughters—whose mothers started taking the hormone earlier in pregnancy—that have about twice the risk of breast cancer than non-exposed females, as well as higher rates of most of the aforementioned conditions. The study originally identified DES daughters by the presence of telltale changes in vaginal tissue. However, this marker tends to heal as women age. If you suspect that you’re a DES daughter, get regular Pap smears and mammograms to manage your increased risk of uterine and breast cancer.

Read: NPR

Next: Common Breast Cancer Myths—Busted!

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First Published October 10, 2011

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