Colon cancer and seafarer’s diet

THE INTERPLAY of dietary factors, age and working environment while at sea contribute to the development of colon cancer among seafarers.

The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Skippers vs Lagne (G.R. No. 217036 Aug. 20, 2018) that rectal illness is compensable for permanent and total disability due to his dietary provisions.

Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer or large bowel cancer, includes cancerous growths in the colon, rectum and appendix. It can invade and damage adjacent tissues and organs.

Cancer cells can also break away and spread to other parts of the body (such as liver and lung) where new tumors form.

Companies usually deny liability for payment of disability or death benefits since there are only three types of cancers listed as occupational diseases under the Philippine Overseas Employment Adminsitration (POEA) Standard Employment Contract:

(1) cancer of the epithelial lining of the bladder (papilloma of the bladder)

(2) cancer, epithellematous or ulceration of the skin or of the corneal surface of the eye due to tar, pitch, bitumen, mineral oil or paraffin, or compound products or residues of these substances

(3) acute myeloid leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Jurisprudence provides that to establish compensability of a non-occupational disease, reasonable proof of work-connection and not direct causal relation is required.

Probability, not the ultimate degree of certainty, is the test of proof in compensation proceedings.

Settled is the rule that for illness to be compensable, it is not necessary that the nature of the employment be the sole and only reason for the illness suffered by the seafarer. It is sufficient that there is reasonable linkage between the disease suffered by the employee and his work to lead a rational mind to conclude that his work may have contributed to the establishment or, at the very least, aggravation of any pre-existing condition he might have had.

The  Supreme Court stressed that the seafarer  acquired or developed his illness during the term of his contract due to the strenuous nature of his job, his advanced age at the time of hiring combined with his poor diet which consists of mostly carbohydrates, high-fat, high­ cholesterol, and low-fiber food.

His dietary provisions while at sea increased his risk of contracting colon cancer because he had no choice of what to eat on board.

Being a seafarer, the food provisions on a ship are designed for long journeys across the oceans and seas. The food provided are mostly frozen or processed meat, and canned goods. Seldom are there vegetables which easily rot and wilt and, therefore, impracticable for long trips.

These provisions undoubtedly contribute to the aggravation of the seafarer’s rectal illness.

While there is no specific cause of colorectal cancer, the Supreme Court noted that certain factors can increase the risk of developing the disease, including diet, age and health.

Diets high in fat, red meat, total calories, and alcohol are significantly associated with the formation of cancer-causing chemicals known as carcinogens which predisposes humans to contracting the disease.

The compensability of colorectal cancer has also been ruled upon in the case of Leonis Navigation vs Heirs of the late Catalina V. Villamater (G.R. No. 179169 March 3, 2010) wherein the Supreme Court noted that factors that increased a person’s risk of colorectal cancer include high fat intake.

Diets high in fat are believed to predispose humans to colorectal cancer. It is believed that the breakdown products of fat metabolism lead to the formation of cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens).

Diets high in vegetables and high-fiber food may rid the bowel of these carcinogens and help reduce the risk of cancer.

Living in typically confined environments on board vessels for prolonged periods of time leaves seafarers exposed to various ongoing health problems including obesity and vitamin deficiency, as they choose convenience foods heavy in sugar and salt and low in protein.

Poor diet has even been found to be a key factor in altering physiological and psychological functions, which can have a devastating impact not only on the individual but also on the smooth running of daily operations.

Seafarers are exposed to occupational risk factors, as well as environmental risk factors, as part of their normal everyday activities since they spend a large part of their lives at sea. Most seafarers live and work under extremely hazardous conditions that can cause serious short-term and long-term damage to their health. In some cases, they are exposed to conditions that can even be fatal.


Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786./PN


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