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Jimmy Buffett's deadly cancer: Merkel Cell

Merkel Cell Cancer is so rare, that only about 2,500 cases are seen each year.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Flip flops & margaritas. We remember Jimmy Buffett as living and singing about beach life. At the age of 76, he died of Merkel Cell cancer on September 1, 2023. Merkel Cell is a rare form of skin cancer that impacts about 2,500 people a year. 

"About 85% of the time it's a skin cancer. About 15%  of the time we don't know where it starts from so it's complicated. Early-stage disease can be treated with surgery and can be cured. Later stages of the disease can be aggressive and deadly for our patients," said Dr. David Miller, Director of the Merkel Cell Center at Mass General Hospital.

Doctors say what makes this rare skin cancer more complicated is that there is no hallmark presenting feature or symptom. One key preventative measure people can take is to limit their direct exposure to the sun. The recommendation is to wear sunscreen every day. 

"Every time you get a sunburn, it ages your skin and it increases your risk for skin cancer," said Trisha Calvo, Consumer Reports. 

At all costs, you want to prevent sunburn. The top performing sunscreen according to Consumer Reports testing in 2023 was Coppertone Water Babies Lotion SPF 50, and yes, all ages can use it. 

You'll want to use a teaspoon per body part or area that's not covered up with clothing and if you're using a spray, hold the nozzle about an inch from your skin and spray until your skin glistens, then rub it in.

If you're already nursing a sunburn from this holiday weekend, there are a few things you can do to make it feel better. 

Take frequent cool baths and showers.

 "When you're done, pat yourself dry, don't rub the towel against your skin. Leave your skin a little damp and use a moisturizer with aloe vera or soy," said Calvo. 

You can take an anti-inflammatory like aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce swelling alleviate discomfort and hydrate. Drink more water than you usually do to aid in healing. 


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