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4 Sisters Who Had Breast Cancer Sue Drug Maker, Blaming Mother's Medication

BOSTON (CBS) - Four sisters have a bond they'd rather not share. All of them have suffered from breast cancer. Not just bad luck, they say, or coincidence. The Melnick sisters blame a drug called Diethylstilbestrol, commonly known as DES.

And now they are taking pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly to court in a groundbreaking lawsuit.

Melnick sisters
Melnick sisters

DES is drug that was given to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage from the 1930's until it was pulled from pharmacies in 1971 after links to a rare form of vaginal cancer were discovered.

Since then, "DES Daughters" have reported fertility and reproductive problems. The Melnick sisters experienced infertility, but it was when the breast cancer diagnoses came, that they looked further into the DES link.

Michele Fecho was diagnosed in 1998. Her sister Donna McNeeley's bad news came in 2002. Then Andrea Andrews and Francine Melnick were diagnosed with breast cancer on the same day in 2003.

A fifth Melnick sister did not have breast cancer, but their mother did not take DES during her pregnancy with that sister.

"There has to be a link," says Andrea. "This isn't a coincidence."

The lawsuit claims in utero exposure to DES caused their breast cancer and accuses drug maker Eli Lilly of knowing about the risks but failing to warn patients.

"I'm sad for my mother who took this because she wanted to have us and wasn't explained the risks of what she took," says Andrea.

Eli Lilly did not respond to requests for an interview. In court documents, their lawyers say the sisters have no "no competent evidence" that backs up their claim.

The sisters have been fighting Eli Lilly for five years. Some say they are angry. Others are sad. All four say the DES problems have impacted their lives for decades.

They finally have their day in court Friday when jury selection begins. They hope the result of their case is increased awareness for other women who may be suffering.

"My primary concern is the awareness and at least educating the medical community and DES Daughters," says Michele.

There are more than 50 other cases dealing with the breast cancer link to DES that have been filed in Federal Court in Boston. This is the first to go to trial.

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