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S Afr Med J. 2006 Mar;96(3):209-12.

Self-induced vomiting -- risk for oesophageal cancer?

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Department of Chemical Pathology, Stellenbosch University, W Cape, South Africa.



Chronic inflammation of the oesophagus is considered a precursor condition for the development of oesophageal cancer. Identification of the causes of chronic oesophageal irritation is therefore relevant in developing preventive measures. Self-induced vomiting is a cultural practice among the black population of South Africa, particularly those living in the Transkei, a region reported to have one of the highest incidences of oesophageal cancer worldwide.


We retrospectively examined the association between the practice of self-induced vomiting and the development of cytological features of inflammation in 478 self-selected subjects living in Transkei who underwent early screening for oesophageal cancer. Screening involved brush biopsy, cytological investigation and a questionnaire interview.


The prevalence of self-induced vomiting was 80.5% and 79.1% in males and females, respectively, and this was stable across all ages. Furthermore, self-induced vomiting was found to be significantly and independently associated with oesophageal chronic inflammation (odds ratio 1.83, 95% confidence interval: 1.13 - 2.96, p = 0.013).


While the association between the cultural practice of self-induced vomiting and oesophageal cancer has previously been hypothesised, this is the first study to report on an association between this practice and oesophageal chronic inflammation. Further studies that take into account the method used, frequency and duration of vomiting, age of commencement and fasting state of subjects practicing self-induced vomiting coupled with accurate indicators of inflammation are needed to elucidate the role of self-induced vomiting in oesophageal pathogenesis.

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