Drug for moms linked to health trouble in daughters

PHILADELPHIA - February 15, 2013

Donna Harnish says her older sister, Sandra, was bright and independent. She and their mom, Winifred Benisch, say it was brutal watching her battle metastatic breast cancer almost four years ago.

"It was like a horror movie. She was skin and bones," said Donna Harnish.

"You are not supposed to bury your children," said Winifred.

Five months after Sandra died of breast cancer, Donna was diagnosed with the disease.

Both sisters were exposed to the drug Diethylstilbestrol, or DES. It is a synthetic estrogen that was prescribed to millions of pregnant women in the 1940s to 1970s to prevent miscarriages.

Winifred took the drug while pregnant with Donna and Sandra, but didn't take it while pregnant with their younger sisters. Neither of younger girls had fertility problems or breast cancer.

Donna, and hundreds of other women, have filed lawsuits against Eli Lilly, the company that sold the majority of DES. Several studies link the drug to a greater risk for breast cancer in women over 40.

Donna's lawyer, Aaron Levine, said "It was known to be a carcinogen and they conducted no tests, not one single test on an animal or a human."

A similar lawsuit against Eli Lilly was recently settled in Massachusetts, but no information was released.

Donna hopes to raise awareness for other 'DES daughters' so they can be screened. She says she was lucky - she beat breast cancer - but she still misses her older sister.

Eli Lily issued a statement saying:

"We do not believe the plaintiffs can prove to a reasonable degree of medical or scientific certainty that in utero exposure to DES causes breast cancer generally, or that it caused an increased risk of breast cancer in the plaintiffs.
DES was sold only as a generic and never patented; over 200 companies marketed DES between 1938-1971. Lilly has not marketed DES for prevention of miscarriages in over 40 years and has not marketed the medicine for any indications in over 15 years.   
Lilly's conduct with regard to designing, inspecting, testing, labeling and marketing DES conformed with all FDA statutory and regulatory requirements at the time DES was approved for use in preventing miscarriage in women with hormonal deficiencies.
 For these reasons, we believe these claims are without merit and are prepared to defend against them vigorously."

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