Jimmy Buffett, the laid-back crooner who built his billion-dollar career on the song Margaritaville died at age 76 of a rare, aggressive form of skin cancer known as Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC). He reportedly lived four years after being diagnosed with MCC.
Wright State Physicians dermatologist, and professor and chair of dermatology with Wright State Boonshoft School of Medicine, Julian Trevino, MD, shares more information about MCC.
Estimates are that about 3,300 cases of MCC will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2025. This form of skin cancer primarily affects fair-skinned individuals older than 50 with a history of increased of sun exposure, and a weakened immune system. It is more common in men. It often appears as a painless flesh-colored to bluish-red nodule, generally on the skin of the head and neck. The mnemonic, AEIOU, can help in the detection of MCC. From the Skin Cancer Foundation:
Asymptomatic lesion (not painful)
Expanding or growing lesion
Immune system that is suppressed
Occurs in patients older than 50
UV (sun)-exposed skin is where lesions typically appear
Many cases of MCC are caused by a virus known as the polyoma virus. This virus can also live on the skin of many people who do not develop MCC. Testing can help to identify if this virus is the cause of MCC.
The dangerous aspect of MCC is its ability to spread to lymph nodes and vital organs. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival for MCC localized to the skin is 75 percent; this drops to 61 percent for MCC that has spread to regional lymph nodes, and 21 percent for those with spread of MCC to distant sites.
The diagnosis of MCC is made through a skin biopsy. Once diagnosed with MCC, patients will undergo surgery to remove the tumor along with a “safety” margin of normal-appearing skin. They may also undergo removal of adjacent lymph nodes. Most MCC patients will also be treated with radiation therapy, immunotherapy and chemotherapy. Many patients experience reoccurrence of their MCC within a few years despite the above treatments.
The following are a few steps everyone can take to lower their risk for MCC and to make sure if you develop MCC that it is diagnosed and treated as soon as possible:
- Examine your skin on a regular basis so you become familiar with all your “spots” and any “lumps or bumps” on your skin.
- Protect your skin from UV exposure with sunscreen SPF 30 or higher, and sun-protective clothing.
- If you have any skin spots or lesions of concern, such as growing or changing skin lesions, see a dermatologist, a specialist trained in the recognition and treatment of rare skin conditions such as MCC.
Dermatology is accepting new patients, call 937.245.7200 to schedule an appointment.
- Recurrence and Mortality Risk of Merkel Cell Carcinoma by Cancer Stage and Time from Diagnosis. Aubriana M. McEvoy, MD, et al. JAMA Dermatol. 2022;158(4):382-389. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2021.6096
- American Cancer Society website
- Skin Cancer Foundation website