Mutations of the TERT promoter are common in basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma

Mod Pathol. 2014 Apr;27(4):516-23. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2013.167. Epub 2013 Sep 13.


Telomerase is frequently expressed in cancer and contributes to carcinogenesis. Two recent publications report the identification of a set of recurrent mutations in melanoma in the promoter of the telomerase reverse transcriptase gene (TERT) that appears to be the result of mutagenesis from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Both groups reported that the mutations increase the transcription of TERT. This prompted our search for similar mutations in two other UV-related skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. We found that the activating TERT promoter mutations reported in melanoma are also frequent in squamous cell carcinoma (50%) and basal cell carcinoma, the latter including both sporadic tumors (78%) and tumors from patients with nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome (68%). These mutations were found in only 1 of 11 Bowen's disease (squamous cell carcinoma in situ) specimens, and in none of 15 non-malignant skin specimens and 57 blood specimens. The mutations were frequently homozygous or hemizygous, with little or no normal signal at the mutated positions. These data suggest that TERT promoter mutations are the most frequent putative oncogenic mutations in cutaneous cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bowen's Disease / enzymology
  • Bowen's Disease / genetics*
  • Bowen's Disease / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / enzymology
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / pathology
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Female
  • Heterozygote
  • Homozygote
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Skin Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Telomerase / genetics*


  • TERT protein, human
  • Telomerase