Xeroderma pigmentosum variant (XPV) patients with mutations in the DNA polymerase eta (pol eta) gene are hypersensitive to sunlight and have greatly increased susceptibility to sunlight-induced skin cancer. Consistent with the ability of Pol eta to efficiently bypass UV light-induced cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers, XPV cells lacking Pol eta have diminished capacity to replicate UV-damaged DNA and are sensitive to UV light-induced killing and mutagenesis. To better understand these and other Pol eta functions, we generated Pol eta-deficient mice. Mice homozygous for a null mutation in pol eta are viable, fertile, and do not show any obvious spontaneous defects during the first year of life. However, fibroblasts derived from these mutant mice are sensitive to killing by exposure to UV light, and all Pol eta-deficient mice develop skin tumors after UV irradiation, in contrast to the wild-type littermate controls that did not develop such tumors. These results and biochemical studies of translesion synthesis by mouse Pol eta indicate that Pol eta-dependent bypass of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers suppresses UV light-induced skin cancer in mice. Moreover, 37.5% of pol eta heterozygous mice also developed skin cancer during 5 months after a 5-month exposure to UV light, suggesting that humans who are heterozygous for mutations in pol eta may also have an increased risk of skin cancer.