Eli Lilly Settles DES Pregnancy Drug for Link to Breast Cancer

A settlement has been reached between drug maker, Eli Lilly & Co. and four women (sisters) who claim their breast cancer was caused by the synthetic estrogen manufactured by the company.

An agreement was reached of an undisclosed amount on Wednesday, the second day of testimony in U.S. District Court in Boston.  The sisters claim that their mother took a manufactured estrogen called diethylstilbestrol, known as DES, while she was pregnant with each of them in the 1950’s, leading to their breast cancers. They had not specified damages sought in the lawsuit.

The sisters’ case was the first to go to trial out of thousands of similar claims filed in Boston and all around the country. A total of 51 women, including the Melnicks, have lawsuits pending in U.S. District Court in Boston against more than a dozen companies that manufactured or marketed the drug.

DES was prescribed to millions of pregnant women over three decades believed to prevent miscarriages, premature births and other problems. It was taken off the market in the early 1970’s after being linked to a rare vaginal cancer in women whose mothers used DES. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates between 5 and 10 million pregnant women and children were exposed to DES.

Studies later showed the drug did not prevent miscarriage.

The doctor who treated the Melnick sisters is now dead and there are no records documenting that he prescribed DES.  At the time, leading researchers recommended DES for pregnant women who had three or more consecutive miscarriages. The sisters’ claim that since their mother did not have consecutive miscarriages, prescribing DES to her would have gone against the company’s recommendations.

It was alleged that Eli Lilly failed to test the drug’s effect on fetuses before promoting it as a way to prevent miscarriages.

Eli Lilly claimed there was no evidence the drug caused breast cancer in the daughters of women who took it.

DES was not patented and was manufactured by many companies.

A woman from Columbus, Ohio, Irene Sawyer, is also suing Eli Lilly, alleging that her prenatal exposure to DES caused her breast cancer. She called the settlement “a huge victory” for DES daughters.

“The bottom line is that this company put out a drug without testing, without knowing the consequences of this drug,” Sawyer said.

The Melnick sisters, who grew up in Pennsylvania, said they all developed breast cancer while in their 40s.

An interesting point was brought up; their mother did not take DES while pregnant with a fifth sister, and the fifth sister is the only child in the family that has not developed breast cancer.

The four Melnick sisters also had miscarriages, fertility problems or other reproductive tract problems, long suspected of being caused by prenatal exposure to DES.  They were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1997 and 2003 and had treatments ranging from lump-removal surgery to a full mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy.

Thousands of lawsuits have been filed alleging links between DES and vaginal cancer, cervical cancer and fertility problems. Many of those cases were settled.

For more information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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