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SkinEducation

One Life to Achieve Visible Health this May

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It has been nearly 38 years since Bob Marley died on May 11, 1981. This iconic figure is not only remembered for his captivating music but also for his ability to inspire generations of people to unite and face life’s obstacles. His legacy lives on today as the American Academy of Dermatology celebrates Melanoma Monday every first Monday of May annually.

Bob Marley died of metastatic melanoma at the age of 36. While this type of skin cancer is most common in individuals with lighter skin tones or of Caucasian decent, it claimed the life of this young, biracial talented musician.  Melanoma is an abnormal growth or cancer of pigmented cells in the body. While the skin is usually the primary site, the eye also has pigment and may develop uveal melanoma. Sunburns and tanning bed use increase ultraviolet radiation to the body to cause melanoma. Melanomas can start as new cancers or develop from atypical moles already present in the skin. Research has identified genetic mutations linked to the development of melanoma and associations with other primary organ cancers, such as breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer. Changes to the immune system in aging individuals and other forms of immunosuppression also are associated with melanoma. Individuals with a family history of melanoma are at increased risk of developing the disease and should be monitored with skin exams.

The reported stories of Bob Marley’s disease involved a wound on the right foot that was neglected for years. Over time, the lesion enlarged and then eventually spread to other organs in the body. While Marley did attempt various alternative therapies after the spread of his cancer, it was beyond cure and he died at a hospital in Miami Florida. The loss of this remarkable artist to skin cancer sent a riveting message about the significance of skin cancer. It also raised awareness of how critical it is that people do not ignore visible changes that may be serious signs of disease. 

Besides enjoying his uplifting music, there are lessons we can learn from Bob Marley’s life to help us achieve Visible Wellness. First, no one is immune to skin cancer. While Bob Marley was of biracial ethnicity, people of purely African decent can also develop melanoma. Acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) is a rare type of melanoma that disproportionately affects darker skin types on the hands and feet. If neglected, these skin lesions in these areas can prove fatal.  While risk factors include family history, tanning bed use, and sunburns, anyone with pigment (everyone) may develop melanoma.

Second, get things checked out. Nonhealing wounds or growing lesions on the skin may be signs of malignancy or other disease. Have a primary care doctor or other provider evaluate the concerning area to determine whether further intervention is needed. The best approach to healing disease and to cure cancer is early intervention.

To raise awareness of skin cancer among the general public, numerous dermatology clinics are offering free Spot Skin Cancer screenings on Melanoma Monday, May 6th, 2019, and even other dates during the month of May. Twin Cities Dermatology Center and I will also be participating and welcome anyone who has a lesion of concern or simply desires to make sure that visible lesions are not worrisome. For other participating clinics near you, please visit AAD.org for locations and screening dates.