Prenatal DES Exposure and Common Adult Chronic Diseases.
Concern about the possible impact of estrogen-like substances found in the environment on a range of health conditions has spurred research in this area. Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is an example of an endocrine-disruptor i.e., chemicals that interfere with the body’s hormone system. While prenatal exposure to DES is known to increase risks of vaginal or cervical cancer and poor reproductive outcomes in women, and abnormalities in the urinary and genital tracts in men information on non-reproductive medical conditions are lacking.
We studied the associations between prenatal DES exposure and the occurrence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and related conditions among 5,590 exposed and unexposed daughters and 2,657 exposed and unexposed sons in the NCI Combined DES Follow-up Study. The associations took into account the participants’ birth year, sex, weight adjusted for height, smoking status, alcohol use, educational status, number of general physical examinations in the past 5 years, and study site.
Comparing participants exposed prenatally to DES with those who were not exposed, there were increases in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (27%), heart attacks (28%), hypertension (14%), and high cholesterol (12%). In addition, the risks of developing diabetes, coronary artery disease, osteoporosis and fractures were elevated, but these findings were possibly due to chance. The associations of DES and the medical conditions did not differ by dose and timing of DES exposure, nor, in the women, by presence or absence of vaginal epithelial changes (a marker of DES host susceptibility).
This study raises the possibility that prenatal DES exposure is associated with several common medical conditions in adulthood, although there is the possibility that our results are explained by differences in the reporting of conditions by the exposed and unexposed participants, or by other factors related to both the conditions and DES exposure status that were not accounted for in the study, such as dietary intake and physical activity. We plan to continue to study these associations by obtaining medical records to confirm the diagnoses in the current round of the study.