This commentary summarizes studies showing risk of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) development in relationship to environmental, occupational and therapeutic exposure to ionizing radiation (IR). BCC, the most common type of human cancer, is driven by the aberrant activation of hedgehog (Hh) signaling. Ptch, a tumor suppressor gene of Hh signaling pathway, and Smoothened play a key role in the development of radiation-induced BCCs in animal models. Epidemiological studies provide evidence that humans exposed to radiation as observed among the long-term, large scale cohorts of atomic bomb survivors, bone marrow transplant recipients, patients with tinea capitis and radiologic workers enhances risk of BCCs. Overall, this risk is higher in Caucasians than other races. People who were exposed early in life develop more BCCs. The enhanced IR correlation with BCC and not other common cutaneous malignancies is intriguing. The mechanism underlying these observations remains undefined. Understanding interactions between radiation-induced signaling pathways and those which drive BCC development may be important in unraveling the mechanism associated with this enhanced risk. Recent studies showed that Vismodegib, a Smoothened inhibitor, is effective in treating radiation-induced BCCs in humans, suggesting that common strategies are required for the intervention of BCCs development irrespective of their etiology.

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