The association between tissue damage, chronic inflammation and cancer is well known. However, the underlying mechanisms are unclear. Here we characterize a mouse model in which constitutive epidermal extracellular-signal-regulated kinase-MAP-kinase signalling results in epidermal inflammation, and skin wounding induces tumours. We show that tumour incidence correlates with wound size and inflammatory infiltrate. Ablation of tumour necrosis factor receptor (TNFR)-1/-2, Myeloid Differentiation primary response gene 88 or Toll-like receptor (TLR)-5, the bacterial flagellin receptor, but not other innate immune sensors, in radiosensitive leukocytes protects against tumour formation. Antibiotic treatment inhibits, whereas injection of flagellin induces, tumours in a TLR-5-dependent manner. TLR-5 is also involved in chemical-induced skin carcinogenesis in wild-type mice. Leukocytic TLR-5 signalling mediates upregulation of the alarmin HMGB1 (High Mobility Group Box 1) in wound-induced papillomas. HMGB1 is elevated in tumours of patients with Recessive Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa, a disease characterized by chronic skin damage. We conclude that in our experimental model the combination of bacteria, chronic inflammation and wounding cooperate to trigger skin cancer.