Abstract Energetic heavy ions are present in galactic cosmic rays and solar particle events. One of the most important late effects in risk assessment is carcinogenesis. We have studied the carcinogenic effects of heavy ions at the cellular and molecular levels and have obtained quantitative data on dose-response curves and on the repair of oncogenic lesions for heavy particles with various charges and energies. Studies with repair inhibitors and restriction endonucleases indicated that for oncogenic transformation DNA is the primary target. Results from heavy ion experiments showed that the cross section increased with LET and reached a maximum value of about 0.02 μm 2 at about 500 keV/μm. This limited size of cross section suggests that only a fraction of cellular genomic DNA is important in radiogenic transformation. Free radical scavengers, such as DMSO, do not give any effect on induction of oncogenic transformation by 600 MeV/u iron particles, suggesting most oncogenic damage induced by high-LET heavy ions is through direct action. Repair studies with stationary phase cells showed that the amount of reparable oncogenic lesions decreased with an increase of LET and that heavy ions with LET greater than 200 keV/μm produced only irreparable oncogenic damage. An enhancement effect for oncogenic transformation was observed in cells irradiated by low-dose-rate argon ions (400 MeV/u; 120 keV/μm). Chromosomal aberrations, such as translocation and deletion, but not sister chromatid exchange, are essential for heavy-ion-induced oncogenic transformation. The basic mechanism(s) of misrepair of DNA damage, which form oncogenic lessions, is unknown.