Bob Marley is credited with introducing the world to reggae music. Now, the Jamaican-born artist is being used to dispel a myth that black people can’t get skin cancer.
"If you look up his cause of death, he died from melanoma,” says Dr. Rosalyn George, a Wilmington dermatologist.
George says she uses Marley’s melanoma as proof to her patients that people of color get skin cancer, too.
"I use that all the time when I talk to my patients because I have a lot of African-American patients who say ‘I don't need to wear sunscreen,’ and it's important for people to protect their skin no matter what skin color they have,” George says.
Marley, whose mother was black and father was white, was diagnosed in 1977 with metastatic melanoma. The cancer was found in his toe.
Doctors advised Marley to have the toe amputated, but the devout Rastafarian refused, citing religious beliefs, and concerns it would interfere with his performances.
Melanoma in darker-skinned people is often found on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
George acknowledges people of color are less likely to get skin cancer than white people, but when they do, they are less likely to survive.
"The most important thing I want people to know is that it’s less common," George said. "It’s probably 20 times more common for white people to get skin cancer than African-Americans, but if an African-American gets skin cancer, they are more likely to die from it."
Marley’s skin cancer spread to his brain and lungs.
Despite his failing health, the singer continued to perform. His final concert was on Sept. 23, 1980, in Pittsburgh.
Marley was attempting to get back home to Jamaica for treatments when he had to make an emergency stop in Miami.
He died on May 11, 1981, at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, now named University of Miami Hospital. He was 36.
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