Jimmy Buffet, the renowned singer and songwriter famous for the song "Margaritaville," died from a rare form of skin cancer last week. The 76-year-old was battling with Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) for the past four years before he died at his home in Sag Harbor, Long Island, on Sept. 1.

MCC is an aggressive form of skin cancer that develops on Merkel cells found on the skin's outermost layer. The life-threatening cancer has a high chance of recurrence and it spreads quickly to other parts of the body within two to three years of diagnosis.

Every year, 3,000 new cases of MCC are expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. It is 40 times rarer than melanoma but three to five times deadlier than the latter.

Risk factors

  • Use of tanning beds - People who have a history of severe sunburns from sunlight or frequent use of tanning beds are at a higher risk.
  • History of other skin cancers - MCC is sometimes seen in people with other forms of skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma.
  • Use of phototherapy - Patients who receive phototherapy treatment for psoriasis and other skin conditions are at an elevated risk of developing MCC.
  • Weakened immune system - The use of immunosuppressants and weakened immunity due to conditions such as HIV increases susceptibility.
  • Old age and light skin - Although MCC can affect people at any age, the highest risk group includes men who are fair-skinned and aged over 50.


The most common sign of MCC is the appearance of shiny lumps on the skin surface, especially on the areas exposed to sun such as the face, head or neck. The lumps can be itchy, tender and dome-shaped. They appear slightly red/ purple and grow rapidly.


The most important step in preventing any form of skin cancer is reducing direct exposure to sunlight and avoiding tanning beds. Experts recommend regular use of broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 when going out in the sun. Any moles or lumps on the skin that grow in size and change appearance should not be ignored.


The treatment involves surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and chemotherapy. The type of treatment depends on the stage of the cancer and the extent to which it has spread.