Potential late health effects of depleted uranium and tungsten used in armor-piercing munitions: comparison of neoplastic transformation and genotoxicity with the known carcinogen nickel

Mil Med. 2002 Feb;167(2 Suppl):120-2.


Limited data exist to permit an accurate assessment of risks for carcinogenesis and mutagenesis from embedded fragments or inhaled particulates of depleted uranium (DU). Ongoing studies have been designed to provide information about the carcinogenic potential of DU using in vitro and in vivo assessments of morphological transformation as well as cytogenetic, mutagenic, and oncogenic effects. For comparison, we also examined tungsten alloys used in military projectiles and the known carcinogen nickel. Quantitative and qualitative in vitro transformation studies were done to assess the carcinogenic potential of radiation and chemical hazards. Using a human osteosarcoma cell model, we demonstrated that soluble and insoluble DU compounds can transform cells to the tumorigenic phenotype, as characterized by morphological, biochemical, and oncogenic changes consistent with tumor cell behavior. Tungsten alloys and nickel were also shown to be neoplastic transforming agents, although at a frequency less than that of DU. Sister chromatid exchange, micronuclei, and alkaline filter elution assays showed DU and tungsten alloys were genotoxic. Exposure to a nontoxic, nontransforming dose of DU induced a small but statistically significant increase in the number of dicentrics formed in cells. These results suggest that long-term exposure to DU or tungsten alloys could be critical to the development of neoplastic disease in humans and that additional studies are needed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogens*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced
  • Nickel*
  • Tungsten*
  • Uranium*
  • Wounds, Gunshot*


  • Carcinogens
  • Uranium
  • Nickel
  • Tungsten