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DES Update: Health Care Providers

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DES: Pharmacology, Data Indicating Lack of Efficacy for Prevention of Miscarriage, Clinical Indications, and Current Uses

This section of CDC's DES Update describes the pharmacology of diethylstilbestrol (DES), data supporting that DES was ineffective in preventing miscarriage, and the clinical indications and uses of DES. In addition, you'll also find a complete listing of brand names under which DES was sold.


Diethylstilbestrol (DES), a nonsteroidal estrogen, was first synthesized in 1938 (3). It was the first synthetic estrogen to be discovered. Never patented, it was marketed under more than 200 brand names. Several related forms were also marketed. Closely related cogeners include hexestrol, dienestrol, benzestrol, and promethestrol.

Data Indicating Lack of Efficacy for Prevention of Miscarriage

A prospective, blinded, placebo controlled study reported in 1953 found that DES was ineffective in preventing miscarriage (2).

Clinical Indications and Current Uses

Diethylstilbestrol has occasionally been prescribed for the treatment of advanced breast and prostate cancer. U.S. drug companies no longer manufacture diethylstilbestrol. It is currently manufactured and distributed by chemical companies for use only in clinical trials and veterinary prescriptions.

In 1971, because of evidence that women exposed to DES in utero (DES Daughters) were at increased risk of the development of clear cell adenocarcinoma (CCA) of the vagina and cervix (138), the FDA issued a drug bulletin contraindicating the use of DES in pregnancy (287). DES was still prescribed to women outside the United States after 1971, however the number of women exposed worldwide after 1971 is unknown. Nations continued to ban or restrict its use into the 1980s.

For a complete list of the numbered citations on this page see DES References.

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