Many people think that is it possible to achieve a "healthy tan," but this thought has been proven wrong. Overexpose to UV-A and UV-B rays from the sun lead to premature aging of the skin, as well as the possible formation of skin cancer, know as melanoma. An appearance of a tan is actually a stage of burning and damage to the skin. Although a tan may be desirable to many, the fact remains that more people need to be educated on the dangers of the sun's harmful rays, and the possible health complications of overexposure. There are three main types of skin cancer.

These are malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. While melanoma is the most life-threatening of the three, it is also the most common. Melanoma will usually appear as a large mole or lesion on the skin, and usually suddenly. It generally tends to appear on the lower-backs of men and the lower-legs of women, though in elderly, sun-damaged persons, it is also prone to forming on the head and neck. While treatment is very successful when caught in the early stages, waiting too long can dramatically decrease the success rate of treatments. Catching the cancer early can result in simply having the mole-looking cancer removed, but if a patient delays treatment for any reason the cancer may spread to other (possibly vital) organs such as the digestive tract, lungs, eyes, or lymph nodes.

The number of cases of melanoma in America is on the rise. According to the American Cancer Society, 6 in every 100, 000 people had melanoma in 1973, but the rate has doubled to 12 in 100, 000 in 1999. In 1998 alone, the disease claimed 7, 300 people, which is a rate of one person every hour. Populations at a higher risk of developing skin cancer are those with strong sunlight all year round. Places such as Arizona have higher numbers of persons who develop skin cancers because they have a greater chance of overexposure to UV rays. Melanoma has been reported to be the most common form of cancer in America, and has also been shown to occur more frequently in superficial situations.

Places such as tanning beds only emit UV-A rays, which is what causes skin to tan and was also once thought to be less harmful than UV-B rays. Research has now shown that it is the UV-A rays that actually aid in the formation of skin cancers. There is also a percentage of the population who is held to be at a higher risk for developing skin cancer. It has recently been stated that short, intense exposure to the sun is a trigger for the formation of melanoma.

Those who may spend the vast majority of their week indoors but go to the beach on the weekends or outside on vacations are much more likely to develop a skin cancer than those who spend regular time outdoors. There are also risk factors that put some people at a higher risk for developing skin cancers, as well. These include: Fair skinned people; blonde, red, or light brown hair, and blue, green or gray eyes, Those with family pasts of skin cancers, Those who experienced several blistering sunburns as children or teenagers, People with moles irregular in shape or color, People with a large number of moles on their body, Individuals with many freckles and / or who burn before tanning, People living in high altitudes, and People who live on / near the equator. Distinguishing melanoma may seem hard to do, but is not so once a person is informed on what they should be looking for. They may appear similar to moles, and may be blue or black in color. Though they will usually lack the symmetry and border regularity of a common mole, and may have variance in their coloring.

Melanomas can either appear suddenly, or develop slowly near a preexisting mole. In rare cases, melanomas may form on top of previously formed moles or birthmarks, but will also come with the effects of pain, itching, or bleeding. These moles may begin to exhibit new and / or strange characteristics such as variegated color, irregular border or asymmetry, or a diameter of more than 6 mm (which is about the size of the common pencil eraser). Other characteristics of skin cancers may include pearly, translucent, or multicolor in skin lesions, as well as scabbing or erosion of the lesion. Anyone can be at risk for developing skin cancer, although taking the right precautions can decrease one's risk greatly. The first, and most obvious way, to protect oneself is to limit the hours of exposure to the sun.

A person should be especially cautious during the hours of 10: 00 AM and 4: 00 PM, when the sun's rays are at their harshest. People are often exposed to the sun without realizing it, such as when driving a car. Another easy yet very important precaution to take in skin cancer prevention is employing the use of sun block with a SPF of at least 15. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and will tell you how long the sun block will protect you while outside. The average person's skin can last about 15 minutes outside without damage, and a sun block with a SPF of 15 will protect a person for about three and a half-hours. Those persons who perspire heavily or exhibit one or more of the traits on the previously mentioned list, should opt for a sun block with a higher SPF, and everyone should reapply sun block throughout the day.

Sun block should be applied at least 30 minutes before sun exposure in order for optimal protection. Babies under 6 months of age should never be placed in direct sunlight, but those over 6 months should always be protected by sunblock, even in dappled sunlight, even on cloudy days when UV rays can travel through the clouds, though the sunlight may not. Because survival of skin cancer is dependent on how early it is detected, people should examine their bodies on a regular basis. People who have regularly examined themselves have a reported 63% reduced risk of death from melanoma. Those with a large number of moles on their body should give themselves a full examination once every month. A mirror may be helpful for people in checking hard-to-see areas of the body, including the back, behind the ears, and between the toes.

Most people tend to have a sense about what is normal and not normal in relationship to the own bodies, and anyone suspicious of a mark on their body should have it checked out by a dermatologist. Once a person has been diagnosed with melanoma, the condition is irreversible, although the cancer can be surgically removed, thus curing the patient. But this is if, and only if, the cancer has not metastasized to other parts of the body. One who has been treated for skin cancer will continue to be at a high risk for developing it again later in life, and may pass to their offspring a predisposition to increased UV sensitivity. In conclusion, melanoma is a very serious and possibly fatal form of skin cancer. There are many risk factors that may help determine who is at a greater risk for developing the cancer, but no one is immune.

One should perform regular full body examinations approximately once a month, during which people should be looking for any irregular skin lesions or raised portions that have a dark blue, brown or black coloration that may be varied throughout. This may look like a mole, but will lack the symmetry of a mole, and will probably have an ill-formed border. Most people will know which moles have always been on their bodies, and which may be new growths, but when and if one comes across something strange or unfamiliar, they should see a doctor as soon as possible for a diagnosis, so that the cancer may be treated as early as possible. While many people view tan skin as desirable, it can truly kill, and those people need to be further educated on the dangers of tanning.

Everyone should take preventative measures to save the health of their skin. Using a sun block and reapplying as needed, as well as limiting time spent in the sun are very important in aiding to the longevity of anyone's life. It is important to remember the factors that may put someone at greater risk, but also that everyone and anyone can succumb to the potentially fatal disease that is melanoma.