Surgery, disfiguring scars, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, death – how sexy do those things sound? These things can be the result of the deadliest form of skin cancer – melanoma. Is that meant to scare you? You bet it is. We know what ultraviolet light does. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, includes ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices in its Group 1, a list of agents that are cancer-causing to humans.  Group 1 also includes agents such as plutonium, cigarettes and solar UV radiation, yet millions of Americans continue to seek the perceived aesthetic effects of a suntan. Skin cancer continues to climb in occurrence, yet it is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. More people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking. Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.

May is skin cancer awareness month.  A month designated to increase awareness about a condition that is quickly reaching epidemic proportions.

There are two categories of skin cancer; melanoma and non-melanoma.  Both are treatable if caught early, however, melanoma can quickly spread to other parts of the body and is therefore very dangerous and potentially fatal.

The primary cause of skin cancer is exposure to UV rays and, as we previously mentioned, is the most preventable form of cancer.  While we are approaching the season of increased outdoor activity, it imperative to protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun.  While many say they enjoy the “healthy” glow of a tan, remember that “glow” is actually  damage to your skin.  While you may think it looks good in the short term, the damage that results in a tan,  will show up later in life in the form of brown spots, wrinkles and rough skin texture at the very least, or perhaps skin cancer.

Melanoma was once thought to be an older person’s cancer.  However, it has increased in occurrence, and is currently the third most common form of cancer in people ages 15-39.  The increase of skin cancer in the younger population has been linked to the use of indoor tanning beds.

Even one visit to the tanning bed puts you at risk.   People who use a tanning bed before the age of 35 have a 75% increased risk of developing melanoma.

Prevention and detection are key in catching skin cancer early.  The American Academy of Dermatology provides these guidelines :

1. Since UV exposure is the number one cause of skin cancer, limit your exposure during the peak hours of sun intensity 10am -2pm

2. Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen 365 days per year – apply liberally and often.

3.  Wear protective clothing when outdoors during peak times as well as a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses.

4. On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns

5.  Warning signs of melanoma include changes in the size, shape, or color of a mole.

6. Regular daily use of an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent and the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.

Although early detection can increase your chances of catching a cancer early, it is always easier to prevent something than to treat it.