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We were saddened to learn about the recent passing of iconic singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffet from Merkel Cell Carcinoma, a rare form of skin cancer.

While the news about Jimmy Buffet has many of us revisiting his much-loved songs and life philosophy, it also provides an opportunity to educate ourselves about this lesser-known disease, Merkel Cell Carcinoma.

Here at Apollo Dermatology, we believe that knowledge is the first line of defense when it comes to protecting our skin. In that spirit, let’s explore what Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC) is, how it differs from other skin cancers, and what you can do for early detection and prevention.

What is Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC)?

Merkel Cell Carcinoma is a rare, aggressive type of skin cancer that originates in the Merkel cells. These cells are found in the upper layer of your skin, close to the nerve endings that help us sense touch. Though rare—MCC accounts for less than 1% of all skin cancer cases—it is much more aggressive compared to other types of skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

How Does it Differ from Other Types of Skin Cancers?

Most of us are familiar with melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. These skin cancers are generally less aggressive and have higher survival rates if detected early. Merkel Cell Carcinoma is different because it grows quickly and has a higher chance of spreading to other parts of the body. Due to its rarity and aggressive nature, it’s essential for board-certified dermatologists to diagnose and treat MCC as quickly as possible.

Risk Factors

  1. Age: Merkel Cell Carcinoma is more common in older adults, usually those over 50.
  2. Sun Exposure: Like many other skin cancers, exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays increases the risk.
  3. Weakened Immune System: People with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk.
  4. Gender: It’s more common in men than in women.

Symptoms and Early Detection

Merkel Cell Carcinoma often appears as a firm, painless lump or growth on the skin. The color may vary from flesh-colored to red or purple. It usually appears on sun-exposed areas, such as the face, neck, or arms. Because of its fast-growing nature, early detection is crucial. If you notice a new, rapidly growing bump on your skin, especially if you have other risk factors for MCC, consult a dermatologist as soon as possible.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Merkel Cell Carcinoma is usually diagnosed with a skin biopsy, where a small piece of the skin is removed and examined under a microscope. If diagnosed, the treatment typically involves surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, followed by radiation or chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells.


The same general guidelines for other skin cancers apply to Merkel Cell Carcinoma:

  1. Use Sunscreen: Always wear broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF.
  2. Cover Up: Wear protective clothing and hats when out in the sun.
  3. Avoid Peak Sun Hours: Stay indoors or in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  4. Regular Check-ups: Go for regular skin check-ups, especially if you are at a higher risk.

The loss of Jimmy Buffet is a solemn reminder of the importance of taking our skin health seriously. While Merkel Cell Carcinoma is rare, awareness and early detection can make all the difference. Talk to your board-certified dermatologist about any unusual skin changes, and remember: when it comes to your health, knowledge is your greatest asset.

For more information or to schedule a skin check-up, please contact Apollo Dermatology. We are committed to helping you keep your skin healthy and safe.

Dr. Dupati

Related post: Why A Skin Exam / Skin Cancer Screening Could Save Your Life (Apollo Dermatology)

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Apollo Dermatology - Board Certified Dermatologist Office serving Auburn Hills, Lake Orion, Rochester Hills, Troy MI, and all of Southeast Michigan