A letter from three University of Chicago researchers in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine updates a 47-year-old series of reports on the risks of exposure during pregnancy to a supplement, diethylstilbestrol (DES), that was once widely used but since 1971 has been linked to a rare cancer: clear-cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina and cervix.
In the May 3, 2018, issue of the NEJM, the authors show that DES-exposed patients with clear-cell adenocarcinoma had “increased mortality across their life span.”
“The risk of death for women aged 10 to 34 who had been exposed to DES in utero and had clear-cell adenocarcinoma was 27 times higher than the risk for women in the general U.S. population,” said study author Dezheng Huo, MD, PhD, associate professor of public health sciences at the University of Chicago Medicine. That fell to five times higher for women ages 35 to 49, mainly due to late recurrences. The risk of death for women between 50 and 65 fell to just two times higher.
This series of reports on DES began on April 22, 1971, when the NEJM published a classic study, titled “Adenocarcinoma of the Vagina — Association of Maternal Stilbestrol Therapy with Tumor Appearance in Young
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