Radon linked to lung cancer risk in nonsmokers

Each year, radon kills more people than home fires, drowning, falls or drunk driving. It is the number one cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, taking some 21,000 lives annually.

Even though there are plenty of ways to decrease exposure to the radioactive element that results from the decay of uranium, many people aren't aware of their risk or options.

Because radon is naturally present in soil, rock and water, everyone is exposed to at least low levels of it in the air we breathe. Some areas have soil with higher concentrations than others. When radon is released into enclosed structures - such as modern homes with higher energy efficiency and less ventilation - the levels can become dangerous.

"The degree of radioactivity causes DNA damage and cancer," says Dr. Jennifer Toth, director of interventional pulmonology at Penn State Hershey. "It is a colorless, odorless, intangible thing that creates a cumulative effect."

When inhaled at high levels or for extended periods of time, the radioactive particles can damage the cells that line the lungs. Decades typically pass between exposure and when health problems surface.

"If you are living in a basement where the radon level is 20 for five years, you have the same risk as someone who has lived in a home with a radon level of 10 for twice as long," Toth says. "Children also tend to have higher exposure to it because of their lung structure and their higher respiratory rate."

Dr. Michael Reed, chief of the division of thoracic surgery at Penn State Hershey, says the general public tends to underestimate the risk - or believe that only smokers need worry about it. "Everyone should have their home checked," he says. "If the levels are high, move forward with some sort of abatement process."

Although smokers who are exposed to radon have 10 to 20 times the risk of nonsmokers of developing lung cancer, anyone can suffer the effects of high radon levels.

Many homes are tested for radon before they are bought and sold, but if you don't know the radon level where you live, you can purchase a test kit or hire a certified professional to assess the risk and offer suggestions to decrease the levels.

"Current technology can easily decrease the concentration of radon in the air and lower the risk," Reed says. "It's easy, but it's merely awareness."

During the month of January, which is radon awareness month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urges everyone to learn more about the problem and available solutions through a Citizen's Guide to Radon that it has put together. You can find it at www.epa.gov/radon.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.

You might also like...
Researchers identify two risk factors that indicate higher risk of aggressive prostate cancer