Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: March 23, 2012
Radon is a naturally occurring odorless, colorless radioactive gas that results from the decay of rock and soil components. Radon moves up from the ground into homes, where it becomes trapped and accumulates, exposing the inhabitants to its cancer-causing potential. Different areas of the world have different amounts of Radon produced, but the type of foundation in your home is also important, since some foundations are better ventilated. Because of this, two homes next door to each other could have different levels of radon in the indoor air.
After tobacco use, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon can accumulate in new and old homes and those with OR without a basement. The only way to know if your home contains radon is to have it tested, which can be done using a kit from a hardware store or having a radon professional perform the test. Many areas have laws requiring radon testing before a house is sold. If radon is detected in levels above 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter), a qualified radon professional can install a removal system, which vents the gas to the outside using a pipe and fan system. Because it is not clear what level of radon is safe, the EPA recommends that people consider a removal system for levels from 2-4 pCi/L.
To find out more about radon and radon testing in your home visit the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) website. To learn more about radon and radon exposure see the list of national organizations compiled by the American Cancer Society at ACS Radon Information.
If you are a smoker and exposed to radon, it is very important to quit smoking because the risk of lung cancer for a smoker with radon exposure can be 10 times higher than a non-smoker with radon exposure. Notify your healthcare provider if you have been exposed to high levels of radon so that, if appropriate, screening tests can be done to either decrease the risk of developing cancer or detect the cancer at an early stage when it may be able to be best treated. It is also very important to let your healthcare provider know if you develop any potentially worrisome symptoms such as shortness of breath, new or worsening cough, chest tightness or pain, hoarse voice, or difficulty swallowing.