Systemic effects of UVB irradiation (280-320 nm) have been shown to prevent subsequent chemical tumorigenesis induced by an initiation-promotion protocol. The present investigation was designed to determine whether initiation or promotion is prevented by UV irradiation. Groups of 25 B6D2F1/J mice received 12 weeks of intermittent dorsal UVB radiation treatments administered before, or 3 weeks after, initiation with a single application of 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene on the ventral skin. All mice were promoted ventrally with 5 micrograms 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) applied three times weekly throughout the experiment. UV irradiation consisted of five 30-min exposures per week to a bank of 6 Westinghouse FS40 sunlamps. UV irradiation applied before or after initiation resulted in a decrease of 18-16 tumors per group of 25 mice, for a reduction of 61 and 50%, respectively, at 24 weeks after the first TPA treatment. Thus, prevention of tumor development was similar whether the UV influence was present or not during initiation. This finding suggests that the UV prevention of promotion could account for UV inhibition of skin tumors induced by an initiation-promotion regimen. Consistent with this concept, pretreatment of mice with dorsal UVB radiation was found to reduce DNA synthesis after exposure to TPA by 46%, although it did not decrease tritiated benzo[a]pyrene binding to DNA, in ventral epidermis. Thus, UVB irradiation systemically reduced TPA-induced tumor promotion in murine skin.