Bake your back and you may pay the price long after the redness fades: Sunburns on your back are more likely to lead to melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—than burns in any other location, research from Harvard finds.
In the study, men who had a severe sunburn on their back—even just one—were more than twice as likely to develop melanoma than those who’d never been sunburned.
Men who had sunburns on their lower limbs, faces, or arms still had an increased risk of melanoma compared those who hadn’t had a sunburn anywhere, but it was not as significant a risk as for those whose backs had been burned.
So why is your back so susceptible to the sun? It may be because your back is much less likely to receive regular exposure to the sun than your face, arms, or legs are, says study author Shaowei Wu, PhD. Then, when you whip off your shirt at the beach or on a sweltering run, your back suddenly receives hours-long sun exposure. And that level of intensive sun not only sends your risk of sunburn soaring, but also increases the subsequent threat of melanoma, Wu says.
Your move is simple: When the shirt comes off, the sunblock goes on. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using one with broad-spectrum protection of 30 SPF or higher, applied every 2 hours.
And if you’ve already suffered a severe sunburn in the past, particularly on your trunk, you need to check your skin about every 3 months for signs of melanoma, Wu says. (Also make an appointment with a dermatologist for a yearly skin check.) These include things like new moles or changes in existing moles, blemishes, and freckles.
Spot something suspicious? Call your doctor or dermatologist. She can take a look, and if it seems abnormal, biopsy it to see if it’s cancer.
Originally featured on Prevention.com