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Inside Jimmy Buffett’s Rare Form of Skin Cancer

  • Category: Cancer
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
Inside Jimmy Buffett’s Rare Form of Skin Cancer

Along with the tributes following Jimmy Buffett’s death came the details about the rare skin cancer the beloved performer had been dealing with. For many it was the first time hearing about Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). Read what you need to know about this aggressive type of skin cancer.

1. Merkel cell carcinoma is rare, but does affect a pretty narrow demographic

In a nutshell, older White men who have not protected their skin from the sun are most at risk. Men in general are twice as likely to develop this cancer than women. About 90% of the people who have it are White, and about 80% are 70 and older. Between 2000-2013, the number of cases of MCCs increased by 95%, and experts expect this to keep rising as the population continues to age and their immune systems weaken. It is still possible though for those who have skin of color or who are young to get MCC.

2. It looks like it could be other, less serious things.

Unlike melanoma, which is the deadliest type of skin cancer and usually starts as a brown or black spot, MCC can be mistaken for a host of other things, like an insect bite, cyst, sore or pimple. It’s most often found on the head or neck, as those areas typically have the most sun exposure. The spot is usually painless, but some do report soreness or itchiness.

3. MCC is connected to a common virus.

Many people who develop MCC have both a weakened immune system and the Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCP). MCP was discovered in 2008 and doctors estimate that 60-80% of people carry it without knowing it and became infected as a child even though they didn’t have symptoms. Research is now focused on why so few people get MCC when the virus is so prevalent, and one theory is that UV damage combined with a weakened immune system case the virus to mutate.

4. It’s common for it to spread, and quickly.

The initial spot can become bigger within weeks to months. In 1 in 3 cases, the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes. If caught early, there’s a 75% survival rate after five years. If it’s spread to the lymph nodes that number dips. Unfortunately, MCC can also come back after initial treatment, often within a few years. It’s important to check your skin regularly at home and get any suspicious spots checked out by a dermatologist (regular visits with a dermatologist are a good idea too). And protect your skin from UV rays with sunscreen, protective clothing, a hat and glasses, staying in the shade as much as you can.