Radon and Lung Cancer

OncoLink Team
Last Modified: January 23, 2018

Radon is a naturally occurring odorless, colorless radioactive gas that results most often from the decay of rock and soil. Indoor radon can also come from coal combustion, gas appliances, and private well water. Radon moves up from the ground into homes, where it becomes trapped and accumulates, exposing the inhabitants to its cancer-causing potential. The levels of radon can vary greatly in different areas of the world. The type of foundation and the energy efficiency in your home is also important. A less energy efficient home and a better ventilated foundation both allow the radon gas to escape. 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. It is thought to cause over 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year. 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 a level of 2 pCi/L or higher.

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.

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. People who have been exposed to radon, and are current or former smokers, may be able to have CT scans to screen for lung cancer. This test has been found to detect cancer at an early stage, when it may be more treatable. This screening is not currently recommended to non-smokers. 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.

Resources

References

American Cancer Society. Radon and Cancer. 2015. Found at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/radon.html

Choi, H. U. M. B. E. R. T. O., & Mazzone, P. (2014). Radon and lung cancer: assessing and mitigating the risk. Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine, 81(9), 567-575.

Doege, T. C., & Hendee, W. R. (1988, January). Radon in homes: determining risks and preventing exposures. In Seminars in nuclear medicine (Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 10-15). WB Saunders.

Hendee, W. R., & Doege, T. C. (1988, January). Origin and health risks of indoor radon. In Seminars in nuclear medicine (Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 3-9). WB Saunders.

Medline Plus. Radon. 2017. Found at: https://medlineplus.gov/radon.html 

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction. 2016. Found at: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-12/documents/2016_consumers_guide_to_radon_reduction

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