Eli Lilly and Co., a pharmaceutical giant, recently settled a Massachusetts cancer case involving a pregnancy drug with synthetic estrogen which was widely used in the 1950s. A total of 51 women, including the four Melnick sisters who claimed their breast cancer was caused by pregnancy drugs their mother used in the 1950s, filed lawsuits in Boston against a dozen companies that manufactured or marketed the synthetic estrogen.
Synthetic estrogen, also known as diethylstilbestrol, or DES, was prescribed to millions of women in the U.S. over three decades to prevent miscarriages, or other pregnancy-related problems. However, the drug was linked to a rare form of vaginal cancer in women whose mothers’ used DES and was taken off the market in the 1970s. Also, later studies showed that DES did not prevent miscarriages.
DES was not patented and was manufactured by many companies, including Eli Lilly.
In the case of the four Melnick sisters, they all developed breast cancer in their 40s, allegedly due to their mother’s use of DES during her four pregnancies. Their mother did not take DES during the pregnancy with her fifth daughter. That daughter did not develop breast cancer.
The four Melnick sisters also suffered miscarriages, fertility problems and other reproductive tract problems, which they linked to being exposed to DES while still in the womb.
The Melnick sisters’ case is the first one to go to trial. Eli Lilly’s settlement in this case may signal settlements in other related cases.
Thousands of cases have been filed accusing DES of causing vaginal cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer and fertility problems.
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