Clear-cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina

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Clear-cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina
Classification and external resources
ICD-O 8310/3
DiseasesDB 2786
MeSH D018262

Clear-cell adenocarcinoma (CCA) of the vagina (or cervix) is a rare Adenocarcinoma (cancer) often linked to diethylstilbestrol (DES), a drug which was prescribed in the mistaken belief that it prevented miscarriage and ensured a healthy pregnancy.


The synthetic estrogen DES was given to millions of pregnant women in the United States and other countries. Use in the US was primarily from 1938-1971 but not limited to those years. Internationally, DES use continued until the early 1980s. DES was given if a woman had a previous miscarriage, diabetes, or a problem-pregnancy with bleeding, threatened miscarriage or premature labor.

Up until the mid to late 1950s some women were given DES shots. After that, DES was primarily prescribed in pill form. DES also was included in some prenatal vitamins.

In the late 1960s through 1971 a cluster of young women, from their teens into their twenties, was mysteriously diagnosed with CCA, a cancer not generally found in women until after menopause. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston eventually linked DES exposure before birth to the development of CCA in these young women. They determined the risk for developing CCA among so-called DES Daughters is small, estimated at 1 in a 1,000.[1]

Clinical features[edit]

After age 30 it was thought DES Daughters no longer were at risk for the disease, but as they age into their 40s and 50, cases continue to be reported. Researchers are now watching for a possible spike of CCA cases in post-menopausal DES Daughters, since this is when this cancer is normally diagnosed.[2]

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), DES Daughters should have a special pap/pelvic exam every year because of their lifelong risk for clear-cell adenocarcinoma.[3] The screening is similar to a routine exam but is more comprehensive and should be done every year for DES Daughters even after a hysterectomy. Although the cervix was removed in surgery, the vagina remains, and should be examined for the possible development of CCA. Updated screening guidelines in 2012 allow some women to skip annual Paps. But in developing the guidelines, the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) specifically spelled out that the guidelines do NOT apply to DES Daughters, who should continue having annual screenings.[4]


Clear cells are rich in glycogen, which accounts for their histology.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hatch EE, Palmer JR, Titus-Ernstoff L, et al. (August 1998). "Cancer risk in women exposed to diethylstilbestrol in utero". JAMA. 280 (7): 630–4. doi:10.1001/jama.280.7.630. PMID 9718055. 
  2. ^ Smith, Emily K.; White, Mary C.; Weir, Hannah K.; Peipins, Lucy A.; Thompson, Trevor D. (1 January 2012). "Higher incidence of clear cell adenocarcinoma of the cervix and vagina among women born between 1947 and 1971 in the United States". SpringerLink. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  3. ^ "Annual Exam for DES Daughters" (PDF). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  4. ^ "Screening for Cervical Cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement". Annals of Internal Medicine. 19 June 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 

External links[edit]

  • Clear cell adenocarcinoma entry in the public domain NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms
  • DES Action USA [1] national consumer organization providing comprehensive information for DES-exposed individuals

 This article incorporates public domain material from the U.S. National Cancer Institute document "Dictionary of Cancer Terms".