Photocarcinogenesis, skin cancer, and aging

J Am Acad Dermatol. 1983 Oct;9(4):487-502. doi: 10.1016/s0190-9622(83)70160-x.


Nonmelanoma skin cancers, like most malignancies, increase in incidence with increasing age. However, in general they are not due to the aging process but are primarily due to solar radiation. Clinically, squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell epitheliomas are the most common cancers that occur in the Caucasian population in the United States. The role of radiation from the sun was suggested by a number of astute clinical observations reported around 1900 and subsequently has been established by epidemiologic and experimental studies. Action spectrum evaluations indicate that the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are the most carcinogenic. However, recent studies indicate that the UVA rays can augment the cancer-producing effects of UVB rays. Other physical stimuli, including heat and wind, can also accelerate UVB carcinogenesis. Chemicals such as the polycyclic hydrocarbons, the nitrosoureas, and nitrogen mustard have an additive carcinogenic effect with UVB radiation. Also, some chemicals such as croton oil, the phorbol ester--TPA, and all-trans-retinoic (RA) acid can promote UVB-initiated carcinogenesis. RA can also inhibit UVB-induced cancer formation. The role of the immune status has received a great deal of attention. Both in experimental and clinical situations, nonspecific immune suppression results in increased cancer formation. Also, recent studies indicate that a specific T cell suppressor population can be induced in experimental animals with UVB which will inhibit rejection of tumors produced by UVB radiation. Finally, damage to DNA by UVB radiation is well established. Studies with the genetic disease xeroderma pigmentosum support the concept that such damage, if not repaired, will lead to cancer formation. It also has been suggested that unrepaired damage to deoxyribonucleic (DNA) and other macromolecules is at least in part responsible for the aging process in general.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / radiation effects*
  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / etiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology
  • DNA / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Lomustine / pharmacology
  • Melanoma / etiology
  • Methylnitrosourea / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology*
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents / adverse effects
  • Rats
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Sunlight / adverse effects*
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects


  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents
  • Methylnitrosourea
  • Lomustine
  • DNA