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J Dev Orig Health Dis. 2012 Apr;3(2):73-82. doi: 10.1017/S2040174411000754.

Prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol and long-term impact on the breast and reproductive tract in humans and mice.

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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), North Carolina, USA.


The term 'developmental origins of health and disease' (DOHaD) originally referred to delayed effects of altered maternal factors (e.g. smoking or poor nutrition) on the developing offspring, but it now also encompasses early life exposure to environmental chemicals, which can cause an unhealthy prenatal environment that endangers the fetus and increases its susceptibility to disease later in life. Prenatal exposure to the pharmaceutical diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a well-known DOHaD example as it was associated in the 1970s with vaginal cancer in daughters who were exposed to this potent synthetic estrogen before birth. Subsequently, numerous long-term effects have been described in breast and reproductive tissues of DES-exposed humans and experimental animals. Data reviewed suggest that the prenatal DES-exposed population should continue to be monitored for potential-increased disease risks as they age. Knowledge of sensitive developmental periods, and the mechanisms of DES-induced toxicities, provides useful information in predicting potential adverse effects of other environmental estrogens.


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