Diethylstilboestrol--a long-term legacy

Maturitas. 2012 Jun;72(2):108-12. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2012.03.002. Epub 2012 Mar 29.


Diethylstilboestrol (DES) is an endocrine disrupter which causes cancer in rodents. It was prescribed in large amounts to treat women with gynaecological problems; some of the daughters of these women subsequently developed a rare cancer (vaginal clear cell adenocarcinoma) while genital abnormalities were found in some of the sons. It was used for decades in livestock feed and this may have contaminated the food chain leading to the exposure of the more general population. DES appears to cause epigenetic effects in animals and there is some evidence that this also occurs in man. The mechanisms of carcinogenesis are complex and the effects are difficult to prove due to the background of dietary and environmental phyto- and xenooestrogens. It has been suggested that, like other endocrine disrupters, DES may have acted as an obesogen in the human population.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / prevention & control*
  • Adenocarcinoma, Clear Cell / chemically induced
  • Animal Feed / adverse effects
  • Animals
  • Diethylstilbestrol / adverse effects*
  • Diethylstilbestrol / therapeutic use*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Food Contamination
  • Genital Neoplasms, Male / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Vaginal Neoplasms / chemically induced


  • Diethylstilbestrol