Merkel Cell Carcinoma: A Closer Look at a Rare Skin Cancer

Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC) is a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer accounting for less than 1% of all skin cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, around 2,500 new cases of MCC are diagnosed in the United States each year. The incidence of MCC has been steadily rising, possibly due to increased awareness and improved diagnostic techniques.


Understanding Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel Cell Carcinoma is named because of the location in which it develops. This form of cancer arises from Merkel cells, which are found in the skin’s basal layer. These cells are responsible for the sensation of touch, making them integral to the nervous system. When these cells undergo malignant transformation, they can lead to the development of MCC. While the exact cause of MCC is not fully understood, it is often associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light and the Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV).

For clinical photos of what Merkel Cell Carcinoma, please visit


Demographics and Risk Factors

MCC is most commonly diagnosed in older adults, with the majority of cases occurring in individuals over the age of 70. However, it can affect people of any age. The risk factors for Merkel Cell Carcinoma include:

  • Age: The risk increases with age, with a higher incidence in older adults.
  • Sun Exposure: Prolonged exposure to UV light, whether from the sun or tanning beds, is a significant risk factor.
  • Weakened Immune System: Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as organ transplant recipients or those with HIV/AIDS, are at a higher risk.
  • Fair Skin: People with fair skin are more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV radiation.


Jimmy Buffett’s Encounter with Merkel Cell Carcinoma

In 2018, the legendary musician Jimmy Buffett revealed that he had been diagnosed with Merkel Cell Carcinoma. Buffett, known for his laid-back persona and iconic songs, underwent successful treatment for skin cancer. His case shed light on the importance of regular skin checks, even for individuals who may not fit the stereotypical profile for skin cancer. Jimmy Buffett unfortunately passed away from Merkel cell carcinoma on September 1, 2023, at age 76, according to his website.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma may be rare, but its impact on those affected can be profound. Increased awareness, regular skin examinations, and protective measures against UV exposure are essential in preventing and detecting this aggressive skin cancer and all forms of skin cancer. The story of Jimmy Buffett serves as a reminder that skin cancer does not discriminate, and early detection and treatment are key in the fight against Merkel Cell Carcinoma.


Have you had your annual skin cancer screening yet?

Forefront Dermatology and its Affiliated Practices are located coast to coast, with many locations offering appointments in days, not weeks. Find a location near you today and schedule your annual skin cancer screening. Early detection can truly save lives.