Radon: The #2 Cause of Lung Cancer

You may have heard about radon gas before, but what a lot of peo­ple don’t know is that high lev­els of radon are haz­ardous to your health. Radon expo­sure is the sec­ond lead­ing cause of lung can­cer in the Unit­ed States and because you can’t see or smell radon gas, it’s impor­tant to under­stand your risk to radon expo­sure and what it could mean for your health.

What is radon and how do I know if I’ve been exposed?

Radon is an invis­i­ble, odor­less, taste­less radioac­tive gas. It is caused by the decay of ura­ni­um that occurs nat­u­ral­ly in the ground and seeps up through the soil dif­fus­ing into the air and water. 

Radon is present both out­doors and indoors. Usu­al­ly, very low lev­els are found in out­door areas and in drink­ing water pulled from rivers and lakes. For most peo­ple, expo­sure to high­er lev­els of radon are typ­i­cal­ly found inside your home and from well water. 

Since you can’t see or smell radon, many peo­ple have high lev­els in their homes with­out even know­ing. In fact, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) esti­mates that one out of every 15 homes in the Unit­ed States has ele­vat­ed radon lev­els. Test­ing is the only way to deter­mine if lev­els are ele­vat­ed and the EPA rec­om­mends test­ing each lev­el below the third floor in all homes both old and new­ly built.

Tests are rel­a­tive­ly easy to use, cost effec­tive to do your­self and avail­able at most local home improve­ment stores. You can also hire a pro­fes­sion­al to test the radon lev­els in your home. The EPA rec­om­mends tak­ing steps to low­er your radon lev­els if the results are 4.0 pCi/​L or high­er. If you have had your home test­ed and the radon lev­els exceed 4.0 pCi/​L, then you should hire a licensed radon con­trac­tor to install a radon mit­i­ga­tion sys­tem that will con­sid­er­ably low­er your risk for radon exposure.

How does radon affect my health?

While decay­ing, radon gives off tiny radioac­tive par­ti­cles. When inhaled, these par­ti­cles will lodge them­selves in your alve­oli, which are tiny air sacs in your lungs. Radon gas mol­e­cules can also attach them­selves to small dust par­ti­cles which can reach deep into your lungs. Over time, these radioac­tive par­ti­cles can dam­age the cells that line your lungs. This dam­age, along with long-term expo­sure to radon, can increase your risk of devel­op­ing lung can­cer. The risk is high­er for peo­ple who have lived in a radon-con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed house for many years. Radon is the sec­ond lead­ing cause of lung can­cer with sci­en­tists esti­mat­ing about 21,000 radon relat­ed lung can­cer deaths in the Unit­ed States per year.

For smok­ers, the com­bi­na­tion of smok­ing and expo­sure to radon cre­ates an even greater risk for lung can­cer than expo­sure to either fac­tor alone, which is why most radon-relat­ed lung can­cer deaths occur among smok­ers. Radon is also the num­ber one cause of lung can­cer in non-smokers. 

There are cur­rent­ly no wide­ly avail­able med­ical screen­ings to test for radon expo­sure. If you feel that you have been exposed to high lev­els of radon for an extend­ed peri­od, sched­ule an appoint­ment with a DMG pul­mo­nolo­gist. A well­ness check may be need­ed to ensure your health has not been impact­ed by the radon exposure. 

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