Bob Marley Shouldn’t Have Died from Melanoma

Bob Marley should be celebrating his 71st birthday today. Instead, the Jamaican singer, musician and songwriter died of melanoma in 1981 when he was only 36. 

It’s easy to see how he could have missed the warning signs. People with very fair skin are the ones most at risk for skin cancer. When a dark spot appeared under his toenail, Marley attributed it to a recent soccer injury. He probably never imagined it could be anything serious, but the spot turned out to be a form of skin cancer called acral lentiginous melanoma that often becomes aggressive because it is detected later than other melanomas.

While most melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or from tanning machines, this type, which develops on hairless skin such as under nails, on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands, is more likely caused by genetic factors. While this form is rare, it is the most common form of melanoma in people of color. 

If Marley’s cancer had been detected early, it could have been treated and even cured. Instead, his melanoma spread, or metastasized, to other areas of his body and tragically cut his life short. Advances in melanoma treatment today likely could have saved or extended his life. 

When to Check Your Skin 

Remembering Bob Marley is a reminder that anyone—of any age or skin color—can develop melanoma. That’s why it’s so important to note any changes in your skin. If a mole is new, changing, frequently bleeds, doesn’t heal or just doesn’t seem right to you, we say “get up, stand up,” and have it checked out.

Search for a dermatologist in your area and schedule your annual full-body skin exam today.

Published on February 6, 2016, Updated on June 27, 2017