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Ultraviolet light shapes the evolution of precancerous cells
Much remains to be discovered about how premalignant cells become cancer cells. An analysis of the development of a type of human leukaemia implicates ultraviolet light in triggering a rare form of cancer.
The factors that cause cancer to develop from premalignant cells at a single anatomical site are becoming clearer. However, the role of tissue-specific environmental pressures that drive these cellular lineages (clones) to cause the disease to spread is less well understood. Writing in Nature, Griffin et al.1 investigate the development of an aggressive form of leukaemia called blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm (BPDCN), which is often diagnosed by the presence of malignant cells in the skin. The authors’ data show that the migration of a type of immune cell through the skin leads to the accumulation of DNA damage associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. This damage precedes the acquisition of mutations associated with the transformation to malignancy, indicating that movement of pre-leukaemic cells to the skin is involved in the early stages of BPDCN.