The incidence and mortality rates of melanoma have risen for many decades in the United States. Increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is generally considered to be responsible. Sunburns, a measure of excess sun exposure, have been identified as a risk factor for the development of melanoma. Because sunburns are primarily due to UVB (280-320 nm) radiation, UVB has been implicated as a potential contributing factor to the pathogenesis of melanoma. The adverse role of UVA (320-400 nm) in this regard is less well studied, and currently there is a great deal of controversy regarding the relationship between UVA exposure and the development of melanoma. This article reviews evidence in the English-language literature that surrounds the controversy concerning a possible role for UVA in the origin of melanoma. Our search found that UVA causes DNA damage via photosensitized reactions that result in the production of oxygen radical species. UVA can induce mutations in various cultured cell lines. Furthermore, in two animal models, the hybrid Xiphophorus fish and the opossum (Mondelphis domestica), melanomas and melanoma precursors can be induced with UVA. UVA radiation has been reported to produce immunosuppression in laboratory animals and in humans. Some epidemiologic studies have reported an increase in melanomas in users of sunbeds and sunscreens and in patients exposed to psoralen and UVA (PUVA) therapy. There is basic scientific evidence of the harmful effects of UVA on DNA, cells and animals. Collectively, these data suggest a potential role for UVA in the pathogenesis of melanoma. To date evidence from epidemiologic studies and clinical observations are inconclusive but seem to be consistent with this hypothesis. Additional research on the possible role of UVA in the pathogenesis of melanoma is required.