What is Merkel Cell Carcinoma?

With the passing of Jimmy Buffett came the news he had been quietly fighting a very rare type of skin cancer for the last 4 years. A much lesser known type of skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma is now front and center.

So what is it? This is an aggressive form of skin cancer that presents itself as a bluish-red, or flesh color nodule, usually found on the face, head or neck. It can be found in places you may not think about too like your armpit or even in the mouth, reinforcing why it’s important to self-check your skin regularly and get an annual skin exam.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, Merkel cell is 40x rarer than melanoma with an estimated 1 in 130,000 people in the U.S diagnosed. Some other statistics suggest that more than 50% of these cases are either missed or misdiagnosed, which is really scary.

Skin cancer in general has some distinctive characteristics, squamous cell carcinoma looks like a sore that is crusty and can bleed. Melanoma has brown and black coloration with disorganized edges. Merkel cell doesn’t pigment, and can look like a pimple or cyst, which is easy to ignore. Most MCC’s grow rapidly and unlike a tender cyst, usually are not tender.

Are you at risk for developing MCC? Long term sun exposure and being over 50 are just a couple of key contributors but not the only factors. A suppressed immune system, a common virus that lives on the skin called Merkel cell polyomavirus that wakes up are other factors. How this is connected is not fully understood. Men are twice as likely to develop this type of cancer, so is fair skin, and advancing age.

Will this cause you to rethink your sun exposure, sunscreen habits, or checking your own skin? We hope so. We are sad to hear of Jimmy’s passing. If you’ve ever been to Key West, you can’t help but hear Margaritaville being played as you walk down Duval Street. What a contribution to music and the songs that will continue to bring a smile for years to come. RIP friend.

“Wrinkles only go where the smiles have been”

Jimmy Buffet

We couldn’t agree more.


lasix pill is lasix a water pill