Mark Robertson

Mark Robertson

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Jimmy Buffett's cause of death: how could he die from skin cancer?

When earlier this year Jimmy Buffett canceled a series of appearances and was hospitalized for some serious medical condition, probably the last thing on our minds was skin cancer.

This weekend after the iconic singer passed away at age 76, TMZ indicated that he died from skin cancer. But how accurate is that?

According to an official obituary posted on his website, Buffett died at his home in Sag Harbor, New York, at age 76 on Friday from Merkel cell skin cancer — which he had been diagnosed with four years ago.

Buffett continued to perform during his cancer treatments, per the obituary. His last show took place in July during a surprise appearance in Rhode Island. How could skin cancer take his life? And what is Merkle cell skin cancer?

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare, aggressive form of skin cancer with a high risk for returning (recurring) and spreading (metastasizing), often within two to three years after initial diagnosis. And Buffet's first diagnosis was four years ago.

According to The Mayo Clinic, Merkel cell carcinoma that usually appears as a flesh-colored or bluish-red nodule, often on your face, head or neck. Merkel cell carcinoma is also called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin. It most often develops in older people. Long-term sun exposure or a weak immune system may increase your risk of developing Merkel cell carcinoma. (Let's face it, Buffett's concert and his own lifestyle involves being outdoors, under the sun, on the water, and that sounds like a recipe for skin cancer.)

Merkel cell carcinoma tends to grow fast and to spread quickly to other parts of your body. Treatment options for Merkel cell carcinoma often depend on whether the cancer has spread beyond the skin. And that may explain what happened to our friend Jimmy.

Even with treatment, Merkel cell carcinoma commonly spreads (metastasizes) beyond the skin. Merkel cell carcinoma tends to travel first to nearby lymph nodes. Later it may spread to your brain, bones, liver or lungs, where it can interfere with the functioning of these organs. Cancer that has metastasized is more difficult to treat and can be fatal. That may be why Buffett was hospitalized immediately early this year.

Factors that may increase your risk of Merkel cell carcinoma include:

  • Excessive exposure to natural or artificial sunlight. The majority of Merkel cell carcinomas appear on skin surfaces frequently exposed to sun.
  • A weakened immune system. 
  • History of other skin cancers. Merkel cell carcinoma is associated with the development of other skin cancers, such as basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Older age. Your risk of Merkel cell carcinoma increases as you age. This cancer is most common in people older than age 50, though it can occur at any age.
  • Light skin color. Merkel cell carcinoma usually arises in people who have light-colored skin. Whites are much more likely to be affected by this skin cancer than are blacks.

I would not be surprised if this information leads to greater awareness of skin cancer and more concern about getting checked more often since most skin cancers, if caught early, can be successfully treated.

One person who knows Buffett well was an Indiana native who was Jimmy's stage manager for decades. Tom Battista spent alot of time with Jimmy and while he may not have been aware of what took his friend's life, he knows one thing: he's going to miss him

Universal Studios Hollywood toasted the arrival of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurant to Universal CityWalk, with an exciting performance by Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band

Photo: Rich Polk / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

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