Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a synthetic estrogen that was prescribed to pregnant women from 1940 to 1971. Although it was thought to reduce the risk of miscarriage, it has since been linked to a wide range of adverse health outcomes in those exposed prenatally, including an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive tract abnormalities (Herbst, Ulfelder, & Poskanzer, 1971). In recent years, DES has been the focus of numerous epidemiological studies.

DES is an endocrine-disrupting compound (EDC) that can disrupt the normal functioning of hormones in the body. While the exact mechanism of action is still under investigation, it is thought to interact with the estrogen receptor and other hormone receptors, which may lead to the development of hormone-dependent diseases (Latini, Mengarelli, & Saccani, 2017). Additionally, DES may affect the development of the reproductive tract, leading to an increased risk of infertility, miscarriage, and other reproductive health problems (Lipson & Sathyanarayana, 2008).

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed DES an unacceptable risk to pregnant women and their offspring and has since removed it from the market (Lipson & Sathyanarayana, 2008). However, DES is still used in some countries for fertility treatment and other medical applications, and is also used in some industrial products such as pesticides and plastics (Lipson & Sathyanarayana, 2008).

Despite decades of research, the full extent of the health effects of DES is still not fully understood. Women who were exposed to DES prenatally may be at an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, including breast cancer, as well as reproductive tract abnormalities, infertility, and other health problems (Lipson & Sathyanarayana, 2008). Additionally, there is some evidence to suggest that DES exposure may be linked to an increased risk of autoimmune diseases and other health problems in the offspring of those exposed prenatally (Lipson & Sathyanarayana, 2008).

In conclusion, DES is a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to a wide range of adverse health outcomes. It is still used in some countries for medical and industrial applications, and the full extent of its health effects is still not fully understood. Further research is needed to better understand the health risks associated with DES exposure and to develop strategies to reduce associated health risks.


Herbst, A. L., Ulfelder, H., & Poskanzer, D. C. (1971). Adenocarcinoma of the vagina: Association of maternal stilbestrol therapy with tumor appearance in young women. The New England Journal of Medicine, 284(15), 878–881.

Latini, G., Mengarelli, A., & Saccani, S. (2017). Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: From mechanisms of action to health risks. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, 459, 12–25.

Lipson, S. & Sathyanarayana, S. (2008). Diethylstilbestrol: Overview of exposure and health effects. International Journal of Andrology, 31(3), 201–210.

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