The Testicular Cancer Awareness Network

Did DES cause my cancer?

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My mother took diethylstilbestrol when she was pregnant with me. Could this have caused my testicular cancer 25 years later?

DES has been studied widely to see if it is a risk factor in the development of cancer, including testicular cancer. There is no clear evidence that testicular cancer is caused by exposure to dietthylstilbestrol (used to be called diethylstilboestrol) (DES) in the womb. There is a higher frequency of undescended testicle in boys born to DES mothers. Undescended testicle is a risk factor for testicular cancer, so there could be an indirect link, but no research has found a significantly higher incidence of testicular cancer in DES exposed boys.

DES is a synthetic form of oestrogen, a female hormone. It was prescribed between 1938 and 1971 to some women who had a history of pregnancy problems, to try to prevent miscarriage. It wasn't used much after the 1960's as research studies had clearly shown that it didn't work. When given during the first 5 months of a pregnancy, DES can interfere with the development of the baby's reproductive system, so it is not used in pregnancy any more.

DES is clearly linked to a number of problems in girls born to mothers who took it in pregnancy. It is linked to rare cancers called clear cell adenomas of the cervix and vagina. It is also linked to a higher than normal risk of infertility, miscarriage and premature birth in the exposed daughters.