The Health and Human Services Department last week released the report of a task force on diethylstilbestrol (DES) in response to a consumer group's charges that it had delayed acting on the task force recommendations since February.
The Public Citizen Health Research Group had charged that HHS delayed releasing details of newly discovered cancer risks for women exposed to the drug, which used to be prescribed to help prevent miscarriages.
Dr. James O. Mason, acting assistant secretary of health for HHS, wrote Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, the group's director, noting that "recommendations from the new report are essentially the same recommendations that were issued in 1978."
The task force report advises women exposed to DES during pregnancy to examine their breasts monthly and to have an annual medical evaluation, including breast and pelvic examinations with "mammography, as may be appropriate." It adds that "DES daughters" -- women whose mothers took the drug during pregnancy -- should have yearly pelvic examinations and Pap smears by a physician skilled in detecting changes in the cervix and vagina, with more extensive testing as deemed necessary.
Mason said, "HHS is also aggressively pursuing the follow-up research recommendations of the task force," which urged further analysis of existing data plus additional studies, particularly to address the recently discovered increase in breast cancer cases among women who took DES during pregnancy.
Wolfe acknowledged that the recommended schedule of medical examinations for DES-exposed women had not changed, but said HHS still should have published the new findings on the drug's relation to breast and cervical cancer in government publications, as the task force had suggested. He said knowledge of the risks would make exposed women "more likely to go in for screening."
Dr. E. Robert Greenberg of Dartmouth Medical School, author of a report on breast cancer that the task force recommended be given additional analysis by HHS, said no one from HHS had contacted him about his study.