Molecular mechanisms of ultraviolet radiation carcinogenesis

Photochem Photobiol. 1990 Dec;52(6):1119-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-1097.1990.tb08452.x.


UV radiation is a potent DNA damaging agent and a known inducer of skin cancer in experimental animals. There is excellent scientific evidence to indicate that most non-melanoma human skin cancers are induced by repeated exposure to sunlight. UV radiation is unique in that it induces DNA damage that differs from the lesions induced by any other carcinogen. The prevalence of skin cancer on sun-exposed body sites in individuals with the inherited disorder XP suggests that defective repair of UV-induced DNA damage can lead to cancer induction. Carcinogenesis in the skin, as elsewhere, is a multistep process in which a series of genetic and epigenetic events leads to the emergence of a clone of cells that have escaped normal growth control mechanisms. The principal candidates that are involved in these events are oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Oncogenes display a positive effect on transformation, whereas tumor suppressor genes have an essentially negative effect, blocking transformation. Activated ras oncogenes have been identified in human skin cancers. In most cases, the mutations in the ras oncogenes have been localized to pyrimidine-rich sequences, which indicates that these sites are probably the targets for UV-induced DNA damage and subsequent mutation and transformation. The finding that activation of ras oncogenes in benign and self-regressing keratoacanthomas in both humans and in animals indicates that they play a role in the early stages of carcinogenesis (Corominas et al., 1989; Kumar et al., 1990). Since cancers do not arise immediately after exposure to physical or chemical carcinogens, ras oncogenes must remain latent for long periods of time. Tumor growth and progression into the more malignant stages may require additional events involving activation of other oncogenes or deletion of growth suppressor genes. In addition, amplification of proto-oncogenes or other genes may also be involved in tumor induction or progression. In contrast to the few studies that implicate the involvement of oncogenes in UV carcinogenesis, the role of tumor suppressor genes in UV carcinogenesis is unknown. Since cancer-prone individuals, particularly XP patients, lack one or more repair pathways, one can speculate that DNA repair enzymes would confer susceptibility to both spontaneous and environmentally induced cancers. Another potential candidate that can function as a tumor suppressor gene is the normal c-Ha-ras gene. Spandidos and Wilkie (1988) have shown that the normal c-Ha-ras gene can suppress transformation induced by the mutated ras gene.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / radiation effects
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • DNA / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology*
  • Oncogenes / radiation effects
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects


  • DNA