DNA damage response (DDR) emerges as a biological tumorigenesis barrier in early stages of cancer development, and a selective pressure that favors outgrowth of malignant clones with defects in the genome maintenance machinery, such as mutations of p53 and other DDR components. Recent studies indicate that the DDR barrier is not alarmed universally among early noninvasive lesions, but rather responds to high-risk tumorigenic threats that occur in high-grade, pre-malignant lesions that are generally more likely to develop into bona fide malignancies. In addition, while the DDR barrier appears to operate in major types of cancer, such as carcinomas of the lung, breast and colon, DDR activation is rare at any stage of progression among testicular germ-cell tumors. Together with observations that several, but not all oncogenic insults are capable of activating the DDR machinery, these new results point to existence of a critical threshold of such oncogene-induced DNA damage. It seems that only cells and lesions that experience DNA replication stress and DNA damage above such threshold activate the cellular senescence or cell death pathways within the DDR machinery. The higher load of DNA damage may also contribute to cancer predisposition in families with inherited heterozygous defects in the DDR barrier, such as in ATM, BRCA1, BRCA2, p53 and other genes. We propose that carriers of such DDR defects may be more prone to malignancy due to 'conditional haploinsufficiency': such partial defects may be asymptomatic in normal tissues, yet they may become manifest under conditions of supra-threshold endogenous DNA damage in oncogene-driven pre-malignant lesions.