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Jimmy Buffett Died From Rare Skin Cancer—3 Symptoms to Look Out For

Experts urge you to get medical care if you notice something on your skin.

It's always tragic when a beloved celebrity dies, and over the holiday weekend, the death of legendary singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett put a damper on the festivities. When the news first broke, the "Margaritaville" singer's cause of death wasn't revealed, but on Sunday, it was confirmed that Buffett died after a four-year battle with a rare form of skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, roughly 3,000 new cases of MCC are diagnosed in the U.S. every year—and it's 40 times rarer than melanoma. Because it's not as common, this may be the first time you've heard about it. If that's the case, read on for three symptoms of MCC that you should look out for.

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The primary symptom is a flesh-colored nodule.

woman concerned about pimple looking in the mirror
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The first symptom of MCC is typically a "flesh-colored or bluish-red nodule, often on your face, head or neck," the Mayo Clinic states. It's commonly found on the eyelid and sun-exposed areas, but this cancer can present anywhere on the body—even places that don't typically see the sun.

Speaking with the Skin Cancer Foundation, Memorial Sloan Kettering oncologist Sandra D'Angelo, MD, explains that the nodule, or tumor, "looks like a raised pimple."

MCC is typically painless, but it may feel sore or tender, and some patients report that the growth itches, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).

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Another symptom is a nodule that's growing.

woman feeling stye
Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

According to D'Angelo, MCC is an aggressive form of cancer that will often "grow fairly quickly." The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that MCC has an average size of 1.7 centimeters when detected, which is about the size of a dime.

While it may look like an innocent mass or growth, according to the AAD, MCC can also look like a sore that's getting bigger, "so it's important to see a dermatologist if you notice a new spot on your skin that's growing rapidly."

This also applies to growing masses on your eye, which you may believe to be a persistent stye or cyst.

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If you have a lesion that bleeds easily, call your doctor.

man cut himself while shaving – Yuri A / Shutterstock

If you have a bump that bleeds easily, it could be a telltale sign that something is amiss.

According to the Mayo Clinic, patients with MCC will bleed after "minor trauma" to the affected area, specifically after washing their skin or shaving.

So, if you notice that you're bleeding easier than usual, or have a bump that just won't let up, don't wait to call your doctor.

"Listen to your body, listen to symptoms that you're experiencing, if you have a symptom that comes, that doesn't go away, just seek medical care and see a physician and further explore that symptom," D'Angelo warns. "Don't ignore it. Don't assume it's just going to go away."

There are also several known risk factors, including older age.

jimmy buffett in 2019
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

According to a news release post on Buffett's website, he continued to play for devoted fans—known as "Parrot Heads"—while being treated for MCC, and his last show was in Rhode Island in July this year.

Buffett rescheduled his tour dates back in 2022 due to health concerns, per CBS News, and canceled a show in May this year after he "wound up back in the hospital to address some issues that needed immediate attention."

When he announced the May cancellation, Buffett said, "Growing old is not for sissies, I promise you." According to the Mayo Clinic, older age is a risk factor for MCC. The cancer is more common in those over 50, but can occur at any age. Buffett was 76 when he died, meaning he was diagnosed around age 72.

Additional risk factors for MCC include lighter skin color, excessive exposure to natural or artificial sunlight, a weakened immune system, and a history of other skin cancers, per the Mayo Clinic.

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Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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