Jimmy Buffett’s Death From Skin Cancer Raises Prevention Awareness

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Musician Jimmy Buffett on stage during a live performance

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Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States.  In fact, it’s estimated that one in five people will develop some form of skin cancer within their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). 

Despite its commonality, it has been one of the rarer forms of this disease that has recently grabbed headlines. It was reported that legendary singer, songwriter, and businessperson, Jimmy Buffett passed away at 76 after a four-year battle with what is known as Merkel Cell Carcinoma.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma is a rare but deadly form of skin cancer that the ACS says is only diagnosed in about 2,000 Americans per year.  In fact, it’s estimated that just one in 130,000 people will develop Merkel Cell skin cancer like Buffett’s.

Surgical oncologist, Dr. James Ouellette, spoke with Premier Health Now about Merkel Cell Carcinoma and the preventative measures that can be taken to lower one’s risk.

A Broad Spectrum of Disease

Skin cancers may indeed be common but there are various types that present themselves differently.

“The more typical cancers such as basal cell and some squamous cell cancers often scab and peel off and then come back but then never quite heal,” says Dr. Ouellette. “Melanoma is more of a dark pigmented skin cancer, though it doesn’t always appear that way, but that’s the most common presentation.  Merkel Cell carcinomas, however present themselves as a small, purple-type of nodule, and they can spread pretty quickly.”

Though some skin cancers, such as Merkel Cell Carcinoma, may be rarer than others, it still serves as a crucial reminder to take specific precautions to limit your exposure to those elements that will increase your future risk.

Dr. Ouellette echoes the ACA’s guidelines to limit exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays through the consistent use of sunscreen and protective clothing, and completely avoiding the use of tanning beds or sunlamps.

Evidence also suggests that those with a weakened immune system may be at greater risk for developing Merkel Cell Carcinoma, making it important to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.

In addition, Dr. Ouellette suggests that individuals conduct monthly self-exams of their skin and that they schedule routine skin exams with a dermatologist, as both serve as an important tool for identifying the emergence of cancer at an early stage.

“Early detection saves lives since it gives your doctor the best chance to remove a skin cancer before it gets the chance to spread to other parts of the body,” says Dr. Ouellette.

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