More than 2000 Massachusetts women have filed suit against six major drug companies, charging that their mothers' use of the drug DES during pregnancy may have made the women more susceptible to cancer.
The case, one of the largest class action suits in history, will go to court June 2.
A Cambridge-based law firm, Baker and Fine, filed the suit in 1976 with approximately 30 plaintiffs, and has since located and notified other women who think their mothers took DES during pregnancy.
Judy Sutphen, a lawyer working on the case, said yesterday the suit claims that the drug companies either knew or should have known of the carcinogenic properties of the drug.
Recent medical studies show that DES can cause cervical cancer in those women whose mothers took the drug during pregnancy. The studies also show that DES daughters have a substantially greater chance of miscarriage.
Because the malignant condition caused by DES cannot be detected by a PAP smear, the usual method of testing for cervical cancer, DES daughters require expensive examinations on a regular basis.
"This condition is something that these women have to live with for the rest of their lives," Sutphen said. The plaintiffs are demanding that the drug companies reimburse DES daughters and establish diagnostic clinics.
Several members of Nat Sci 150, "The Biology of Cancer," are currently working on the suit as volunteers.
Carolyn Carlson '82, who is helping to find DES daughters, said yesterday the number of plaintiffs may have reached 3000.
Jo Anne Preston, section leader for Nat Sci 150, said that she and several class members are investigating the use of DES as a `morning after' pill at University Health Services (UHS). She added that she plans to meet with the directors of UHS in early April.
"All of the defendants involved deny that they knew either that DES was dangerous, or that it was possibly ineffective," Sutphen said.
The case is scheduled to go to court July 30. Before then, Sutphen and the others working on the case must locate and identify all women who suspect that their mothers might have taken DES during pregnancy.
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