I remember just a few years ago thinking I knew every bulimia side effect and possible bulimia-related health complication under the sun, until I read a sentence that totally shook me - “bulimia can cause cancer.”
Now bear in mind that I knew bulimia could cause kidney failure, heart attacks and death before this, but for some reason I’d tried to push those things to the back of my mind.
As ashamed as I am to admit it now, I was always one of those people who thought “that will never happen to me”.
But the idea of cancer, for some reason was all too familiar. Almost every member of my family has fought cancer at some point in their lives, and many developed the disease at very young ages.
I couldn’t believe that I had suffered with bulimia for over a decade before I realised the true implications of the hideous disease.
Would knowing bulimia could cause cancer have stopped me from being bulimic? Of course not, because bulimia is not a choice.
Would it have encouraged me to seek bulimia treatment sooner? Again I don’t think it would have. For all of those years I knew I was slowly killing myself, I understood that I could drop dead at any moment, and for most of the time I honestly didn’t care.
Maybe it had to do with depression caused by bulimia? Perhaps it was because I never thought I could recover from bulimia so I accepted a fate that was not meant for me.
It’s too late to ponder those things now my bulimic days are long gone and I refuse to regret the past.
What I do want to do today is help you to become more informed about the relationship between bulimia and certain cancers.
I really understand that knowing bulimia side effects can’t just help you to stop being bulimic, you can’t and shouldn’t “scare yourself into recovery.”
In recovery I spent a lot of time thinking about all of the wonderful things that learning to eat normally and stopping bingeing and purging were doing to my body.
I motivated myself by thinking about all of the things I would be able to achieve when I was bulimia free, rather than focusing on the damage that remaining bulimic could cause.
When we talk about bulimia causing cancer usually the type of cancer it is associated with is esophageal cancer and it’s development has a lot to do with a condition called Barrett's oesophagus.
Barrett's esophagus is a disorder in which the lining of the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach) is damaged by stomach acid.
Bulimics are much more likely to develop barrett’s oesophagus because bulimia can cause severe acid reflux (and purging obviously floods the esophagus with acid the same way acid reflux disease would)
1 in 10 people who have constant acid reflux will develop a condition called Barrett's Esophagus
Only Around 1% of people with Barrett's Esophagus will develop a kind of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.
Research into esophageal cancer in bulimics is limited and It is difficult to determine the exact prevalence but it appears that about 2% of bulimics will develop bulimia-related cancer.
Esophageal cancer is most prevalent among older people however suffering from bulimia may represent an important risk factor in younger people who are diagnosed with the condition.
Several prior case reports into bulimia and cancer describe people who were diagnosed at a young age - so even in very young people, bulimia may represent a risk factor for adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
In one report the case of a 27 year old woman who had developed adenocarcinoma of the esophagus was highlighted...
She had suffered with bulimia for just one year and while experts couldn't be sure that her bulimia had caused the condition it did seem very likely.
The study highlighted the fact that repeated micro-trauma or damage due to vomiting may contribute to the malignant transformation of the esophageal tissue.
The relationship of bulimia & oral cancer is something that has been studied for years and it would appear that while there is definitely a connection, cases of bulimia-related cancers are very low.
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