Last night, generations of women demanded that an investigation be made into the drug called the “silent Thalidomide”.

A synthetic oestrogen known as Diethylstilbestrol (DES) was given to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage – and to dry up breast milk. It has been associated with a variety of conditions, including early menopause and infertility.

Today’s Daily Mail Investigation reveals the terrible effects of this drug that has affected three generations of British women over the past 40 years.

Marion McMillan was 73 years old when she received DES to stop her milk from coagulating after being forced to adopt her baby. Now, the mother-of-three has terminal cancer.

She stated that Thalidomide is worse because it could affect your children’s and grandchildren’s future. 

 Incredibly, DES is still used to treat prostate cancer and post-menopausal breast cancer. Last night, victims and MPs called for an investigation of DES and a public campaign to help identify victims.

Pictured: Marion McMillan now

Mrs McMillan with her baby boy before she was forced to give him up for adoption in 1966 (pictured)

End stage cancer: Marion McMillan, left and right after she gave up her child for adoption in 1966. Now, Marion McMillan has terminal cancer. 

Sisters who have experienced infertility and cancer are heartbroken 

Two of their sisters, who became infertile when their mother used DES to induce pregnancy during one of her pregnancies, say that they have been left heartbroken by the terrible effects.

Claire Manson and Lesley Benson believe they suffered tragic effects of DES – including cervical cancer and ovarian failure – after being exposed to the drug in the womb.

“It has taken my whole life to get people to recognize the connection between DES, other disorders,” Ms Manson stated. The impact of DES on your life is enormous.

Hilda Manson (from Leeds) was the mother of the children and received DES in the US after suffering multiple miscarriages.

In her 70s she developed breast cancer and, at 86, died of Alzheimer’s.

Ms Manson, 68 and Mrs Benson 70 said their mothers had used DES. They also had their first smear testing as teenagers. 

Mrs. Benson, who was 31, developed early stage cervical cancer. This was later treated. 

In her 30s, Ms. Manson noticed a halt in her periods and at 32 she was diagnosed with ovarian failure.

Cancer: Lesley Benson

Cancer: Lesley Benson 


According to the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 10,000 women were prescribed DES in pregnancy. However, there is no record of this tragedy so it’s hard to know the full extent of the problem. 

These effects may spread through the generations. Many victims are unaware that their parents or grandparents were also exposed.

Women who took the drug – ‘DES mothers’ – are thought to be 30 per cent more at risk of developing breast cancer.

The DES girls are 40% more susceptible to adenocarcinoma (a type of cervical cancer); eight times more likely than their DES mothers to die in childbirth; almost five times as likely to give birth prematurely.

The drug may also increase the risk for early menopause and infertility among women who are exposed.

Sons of mother who used the drug have a higher risk of testicular and infertility. 

A victim who took DES died from breast cancer after two years. She also passed along health problems such as early menopause to her daughters and grandchildren.

Infertile two daughters born to a mother who had taken DES while pregnant are the result. 

The one with early cervical cancer was the first to develop, and the second suffered from ovarian failure at age 32.

McMillan claimed that’most’ women at her Newcastle mother and baby home had been given the drug in order to preserve their milk, as very few infants were being breastfed.

‘At bedtime, girls received a multi-vitamin. They would ask for DES. She said.

“It was like asking a friend if they have headaches and if you can give them an aspirin. ‘

Mrs McMillan had to consume 16 tablets per day for nearly a week following her 1966 birth. 

The first time she took the drug, she was pronounced ‘violently ill’. However, her doctor advised that she continue to take it.

Sir Edward Charles Dodds (British biochemist) created DES in 1938. He did not patent the product which enabled more than 200 drug companies worldwide to produce it.

Dodds’s tests showed that DES, also known in the UK as Stilbestrol, can cause miscarriages among rats and rabbits.

It was approved by the Medical Research Council in 1939. 

It was popularly used in the United States, where 5 million Americans were thought to have been affected. 

It was found to not prevent miscarriage in studies that were conducted in 1953. But, it continued being used.

A research paper published in 1971 revealed a connection between cervical cancer, DES exposure and womb infections.

In 1973, the Committee on Safety of Medicines urged doctors to stop using DES during pregnancy or premenopausal. 

Su Robotti (executive director, DES Action), stated that the drug has a ‘horrific’ past but was less well-known than Thalidomide due to its lesser visibility.

Frau Robotti stated that doctors had told her that DES would prevent miscarriages. But it didn’t. 

It also caused harm to both mothers and foetuses who received the DES. Because we were able to see the terrible effects Thalidomide had on our foetuses, it was much easier for us to learn about them.

Although Mrs McMillan is not sure if her terminal cancer was caused by DES, she said that it had been a high suspicion.

“It wasn’t until I saw the research on DESthat I was able to think, “Oh no! What have I done for my children?”

As a teenager, her daughter was treated for a cyst in her ovary.

McMillan stated, “This is a time bomb, it’s just terrible.” 

To track down the victims, she demanded a thorough inquiry as well as medical records from maternity wards.

Pictured: Lesley Benson as a baby with her mother Hilda Manson on the Queen Elizabeth II when coming back to the UK from the US in 1951

Pictured: Lesley Benson, as a child with Hilda Manson (on the Queen Elizabeth II) when she returned to the UK in 1951 from the USA

Lisa Cameron is an SNP MP, and the chairman of the all party Parliamentary Health Group. She has asked for an inquiry by Health Secretary Sajid Janid about the potentially dangerous drug. 

She stated that potential victims must be identified in order to receive health screenings early on. 

This was a decision made in good faith by women, but it may have been detrimental to their children or grandchildren.

“The government should not only offer financial compensation, but must also apologize for the suffering caused by this drug. 

Pictured: Janet Hall who has called for an urgent enquiry into DES and its consequences

Pictured: Janet Hall, who called for an immediate inquiry into DES (and its consequences). 

There are thousands of DES victims in America, France, and Holland who have sued drug companies. But there has not been a successful case brought up in Britain.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the UK (MHRA), a watchdog for the UK, stated that DES was recognized in 1971 as causing a different type of cancer in daughters of mothers who used it during early pregnancy. However, it did not know of evidence linking DES to increased breast cancer risk in women who had taken it following birth.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, it did not intend to open an investigation into DES. However, they stated that “We Support the Position of the Independent Regulator.”

“Medical professionals must make decisions about prescribing particular drugs based on the patient’s needs and clinical guidelines.

Four women in one family were struck by a disease that claimed the lives of four others. 

After one woman was diagnosed with DES, three generations of mothers in a family experienced severe health problems.

Rita Milburn died of breast cancer at the age of 32 — two years after taking the drug while pregnant with her daughter Janet.

A double mastectomy was performed on the ex-nurse, but it spread to her lungs. Her daughter, a tiny toddler at the time, died from her illness in 1951.

Now aged 71, Janet has endured a lifetime of health problems – including cervical cancer.

Her daughters Hannah and Beth, both of whom are now suffering from the same fate as her, make her wonder if she ever should have been a mother. 

She will never know whether her three grandsons have been affected, until they are older.

“I feel bad for what I’ve done to my girls,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to pass on my medical problems to them,” she stated. 

“Ofcourse, it can affect my grandchildren also. That’s difficult.’

Miss Hall demanded an urgent investigation into the consequences of DES. She said, “We can make things right for our future.”

Bournemouth primary school teacher claimed that DES was administered to her mother following a number of miscarriages after Zarka, her younger sister’s birth.

The drug had adverse side effects for Miss Hall, who was just 20 when her gallbladder was removed. Also her appendix as well as a portion of her stomach were taken out.

She and Hannah have also had painful cone biopsies to remove cancerous cells in their cervix – making it difficult for them to carry babies to full term.

Beth is also believed to have suffered from three miscarriages.

Grandma: Rita Milburn (pictured)

Rita Milburn (pictured, grandma)

Lifetime of health issues: Her daughter Janet Hall, 71, (pictured)

Janet Hall (pictured), Janet Hall’s daughter, is 71.