AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Singer Jimmy Buffett passed away in his Long Island home after battling a rare form of skin cancer for years.

According to a statement on Buffet’s website, the 76-year-old had been battling Merkel cell skin cancer. 

A rare, yet aggressive cancer…doctors say only about 3,000 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

Buffet’s family shared that he battled Merkel cell skin cancer for four years…while continuing to perform between treatments.

“It typically presents in very lightly-skinned, lightly-pigmented individuals- usually on the head and neck,” said Dr. Morgan Thakore, a dermatologist at Doctors Hospital. “But it can occur on other parts of the body…It’s typically kind of older white males that are going to present with this.”

Dr. Morgan Thakore tells us it’s not often that she sees Merkel cell carcinoma in the office.

She says the skin cancer is typically asymptomatic with a distinctive look. 

“Very rapidly growing, kinda pink nodules typically on the left side of the face is where you would classically see it,” said Dr. Thakore. 

People over 50 and those who are immune-suppressed are at higher risk, she says.

And much like other skin cancers, Merkel cell carcinoma is sun-driven.

Dr. Thakore tells us that a certain virus has also been linked to Merkel cell carcinoma.

“Polyoma virus that lives on the skin that can be kind of a driving force behind this particular cancer,” said Dr. Thakore. “It’s not present in all cases, but the majority of Merkel cells seem to be driven by this particular virus.”

Dr. Thakore says that, while isolated cases happen, many Merkel cell carcinoma cases have spread to the lymph nodes by the time they are discovered.

She says that avoiding UV damage to the skin is the best prevention.

“I always recommend patients wear an SPF of at least 30 on their face everyday,” said Dr. Thakore. “Regardless of their skin type or skin color, that’s a good habit to have. If you know you’re going to be outside a lot – at the beach or the pool- make sure to wear hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, cover-ups.”   

Dr. Thakore says that, while Merkel cell carcinoma is more deadly than other skin cancers, it can be treated if caught early.