Evidence for a non-stochastic two-field hypothesis for persistent skin cancer risk

Skin Cancer

Sci Rep. 2020 Nov 5;10(1):19200. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-75864-2.


With recurring carcinogen exposures, individual tumors develop in a field of genetic mutations through a stepwise process of clonal expansion and evolution. Once established, this "cancer field" persists in the absence of continued carcinogen exposures, resulting in a sustained risk for cancer development. Using a bioimaging approach, we previously demonstrated that a dermal premalignant field characterized by inflammatory angiogenesis persists following the cessation of ultraviolet light

exposures and accurately predicts future overlying epidermal tumor formation. Following ultraviolet light treatments, others have observed that patches of p53 immunopositive cells persist stochastically throughout the epidermal stem cell population. However, these studies were done by random biopsies, introducing sampling bias. We now show that, rather than being randomly distributed, p53+ epidermal cells are enriched only in areas overlying this multi-focal dermal field. Moreover, we also show that the dermal field is characterized by a senescent phenotype. We propose that persistence of the overlying epithelial cancerization field in the absence of exogenous carcinogens or promoters requires a two-field composite consisting of a dermal senescent field driving the persistence of the overlying epidermal cancer field. These observations challenge current models that suggest that persistence of cancer risk in the absence of continued carcinogen exposures is simply a function of stochastically arranged, long-lived but dormant epithelial clonal stem cells mutants. The model proposed here could provide new insights into how cancer risk persists following cessation of carcinogenic exposures.