KANSAS CITY, Mo. - When Sharon Hunter-Putsch was trying to have children in the 1960s, her doctor prescribed Diethylstilbestrol.
“These are the days, you have to remember, when doctors were on a pedestal," she explained.
Hunter-Putsch was delivered by the same doctor who gave her this care. She said she considered this doctor a father-figure.
Diethylstilbestrol was synthetic form of estrogen was thought to prevent miscarriages. Back then, the long-term effects of the drug were unknown. Though, as research was released, Hunter-Putsch did her best to protect her three children.
By the time her daughter, Elena Zimmerman, was in her early teens, there was research that showed a connection between DES exposure and vaginal cancer.
So, by 13, Zimmerman was visiting the gynecologist regularly to seek any early signs of cancer.
Now, 48-year-old Zimmerman tells NBC Action News she thought she was doing everything right. She said that hope was crushed two years ago, “I felt a lump on a Sunday."
A week later, Zimmerman was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Surgery, four rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation later, Zimmerman was in remission.
Success was short-lived. Zimmerman soon learned that her illness could have been prevented.
“We are living proof that we're still suffering from what was done," she explained.
Learning that DES exposure causes an increased risk for breast cancer took Zimmerman by storm. In fact, two years later, she is still processing the information.
“It comes in phases, 'Really? I have to go the gynecologist when I'm 13? And really, I have breast cancer at 46?' It’s just, I don't think about it and then it comes back to haunt me kinda thing," Zimmerman said. “It's just a constant state of fear."
According to the National Cancer Institute, women exposed to Diethylstilbestrol in the womb, will face dramatic health risks starting in their 40s and 50s. In fact, research shows that one in 50 women will develop breast cancer because of their exposure to DES. The risks increase as women age.
Hunter-Putsch reacted, “They should understand what their implications were by keeping, allowing that drug to be out there on the market."
Zimmerman took her story to court as part of a 53-woman civil law suit. Last month, a judge ordered 14 drugs companies to provide compensation for these women who have all suffered from breast cancer.
Zimmerman said the suit provides a small dose of justice. However, she hopes most of the money is put toward research about DES.
Her worries don’t end with remission or a settled law suit.
She explained, “Every time I have to go every six months for a mammogram, I’m just holding my breath that it comes back clear.”
Now, her fears extend to her three children. Research shows the effects of DES reach one more generations. That group of people is referred to as DES Granddaughters.
“It's a horrible feeling to realize what you've done to your own children," Zimmerman said.
The guilt attached to this drug spans two generations of women, Zimmerman and Hunter-Putsch, some 41 years after it was taken off the market.
The law firm at the forefront of this fight, Aaron M Levine & Associates, is pleased with the outcome of the civil suit. Attorney Julie Oliver-Zhang wrote:
This is an important victory for DES daughters with breast cancer. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler of the United States District Court of Massachusetts ruled, after two-week long hearing, that the plaintiffs’ experts are sufficiently qualified and reliable to testify before a jury and that their opinions that prenatal DES exposure substantially increases the risk of breast cancer is scientifically documented. She also ordered Eli Lilly and Bristol-Myers Squibb and twelve other drug companies to mediate with the 53 DES daughter plaintiffs immediately.
Many more cases are being filed as DES daughters discover that their breast cancer is linked to their in utero DES exposure and approach us for legal representation.
It is critically important for DES daughters to be vigilant about breast cancer screening, to avoid female hormone therapies, and for doctors to ask about DES exposure in assessing heightened breast cancer risks. According to the studies conducted by the National Cancer Institute and Boston University, DES daughters’ breast cancer risk increases with age, doubling when they turn 40 and tripling when they turn 50. Paying attention to these substantially increased breast cancer risks can save lives.
DES exposure has also been found to affect boys and men.
Please click on the below links for more information.
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