Bob Marley’s 75th Birthday Celebration Is A Reminder to Us All to Be Proactive About Skin Cancer



By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder


Today we celebrate Bob Marley’s 75th birthday!

For those who have no clue who Bob Marley is (which I’m sure is not many people), his full name was Robert Nesta Marley. He was a Jamaican singer and songwriter and one of the biggest influencers of reggae music. He was an ambassador for reggae all over the world. Some of his more popular songs include “Jamming,” “Three Little Birds,” “No Woman No Cry” and “Could You Be Loved.”  

What I’ve always found so incredible about his music is its ability to evoke so many emotions and feelings such as love, sadness, power and triumph and pure joy. You just can’t listen to Bob Marley’s music and not feel something.

Unfortunately, in May of 1981, Bob Marley died at just 36-years-old from a rare form of skin cancer called acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM). I am fairly certain that prior to Marley’s death, many people were unaware of this type of skin cancer. 

(Melanoma refers to a type of skin cancer which usually starts in the cells that make the pigment (melanin) in our skin).  

And even today, acral lentiginous melanoma is not a cancer that is discussed much in the media. But it is important to be aware of this cancer and discuss how we can be proactive.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), ALM is a rare melanoma subtype more commonly found in people of color.

“Acral lentiginous melanoma is the least common subtype in the United States, representing only 2% to 8% of melanoma in Caucasians, although it accounts for 29% to 72% of melanoma in dark-complexioned individuals (African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics). It typically occurs on the palms or soles or beneath the nail plate (subungual variant),” reports ScienceDirect

The meaning of the word “acral” refers to peripheral body parts (for example, toes and fingers). And “lentiginous” essentially means “...the spot of melanoma is much darker than the surrounding skin. It also has a sharp border between the dark skin and the lighter skin around it. This contrast in color is one of the most noticeable symptoms of this type of melanoma,” according to one source

ALM may be difficult to diagnose, because when the patch of darkened skin first appears it may just resemble a bruise or small stain. The cancer can also develop from an existing mole, so sometimes it may go unnoticed.

In Marley’s case, he suspected a dark spot underneath his toenail was just an injury from playing soccer. It was actually ALM. Due to religious reasons, he refused doctors’ orders to have his toe amputated. The cancer eventually spread, and he died of a brain tumor.

According to an article from The New Yorker, Marley’s manager, Danny Sims, said that a doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center said that Marley had “more cancer in him than I’ve seen with a live human being.”

If melanoma is not treated in its earlier stages, it has a high chance of spreading to other organs.

So how can we be proactive about ALM or other melanomas?

Educate yourself about these types of cancers. ALM differs from other types of melanoma, because it may appear in areas that are not directly exposed to the sun. As a result, the palms, soles and nail beds should be closely examined, especially if you notice or feel something abnormal in that area. This is especially important if you fall within one of the groups (people of color) that may be predisposed to this form of cancer. 

Know the signs.

Warning signs of ALM may include:

  • New streak in a nail that is not caused by an accident or bruise
  • Nail streak that has damaged the fingernail
  • A changing spot in or connected to a mole on the foot or hand
  • An irregularly-shaped growth on the foot or hand that is changing, growing or has an unusual color
  • An elevated, thickened patch growing on the sole of the foot or palm of the hand

Also keep in mind that ALM spots may not always be dark in color. They can be reddish or orange in color (these are called amelanotic (or non-pigmented)).

Get checked out.

Consider visiting a dermatologist and getting regular skin check-ups as a necessary part of your proactive health regimen. 

Dermatologists also volunteer their time and expertise to provide SPOTme® skin cancer screenings. This is a FREE service offered through the American Academy of Dermatology, an organization “committed to detecting skin cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage…”  For more information, click here.  

Diet right.

You may even be able to help protect yourself against skin cancer through a nutrient-rich diet. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports nutrients and minerals including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, vitamin A and folic acid may help protect against skin cancer. Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health conducted a study which suggests your daily coffee or tea habit may benefit you with anticarcinogenic effects and reduce your risk of developing melanoma. To find out more about how diet and minerals can help protect you from cancer and other diseases, check out our book Minerals - The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy.

Also don’t smoke, and be smart about sun protection in order to decrease your risk of developing melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. 

We love you Bob Marley. Happy Birthday!

Enjoy your healthy life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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