Go Back

Reducing lung cancer risk through radon testing

Date Published: 01/25/2020 [Source]

Lung cancer is the second deadliest form of cancer in both men and women, after prostate and breast cancer. Lung cancer is cancer that begins in the lungs and most often occurs in people who smoke.

"While the majority of lung cancer is caused by tobacco smoking," said Dr. Craig Donaldson, MD, radiation oncologist at the Intermountain St. George Cancer Center, "taking any particulate into the lungs can put people at risk for lung cancer. Vaping, smoking marijuana, or exposure to certain toxins such as asbestos or radon, can increase the risk of lung cancer."

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that has no smell, taste, or color. It comes from the decay of uranium that is found in almost all rock and soil. Outdoors, radon levels never reach dangerous concentrations because air movement scatters radon into the atmosphere. Radon can become dangerous when it rises from the ground and collects inside buildings and homes - especially basements.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that get trapped in the lungs when inhaled. The particles, in turn, damage the lungs and may lead to lung cancer. Not everyone exposed to radon will develop lung cancer, but risk increases with higher levels of radon, length of exposure, and if you also smoke.

"As with all cancers, lung cancer has a better survival rate if caught early," said Donaldson. "There are lung cancer screening tests for those who are at risk. Symptoms of lung cancer may not appear until the cancer is advanced. Common symptoms include a cough that doesn't go away, coughing up blood, and unexplained, sudden weight loss."

In order to know if you are at a higher risk for lung cancer from radon exposure, you must find out if radon exists in your home.

According to the Utah Department of Natural Resources Geological Survey, most of Washington County is at moderate risk for radon-hazard potential. Uranium concentrations exist naturally in much of the sandstone, granite, and Jurassic bedrock that form the buttes, benches, and valleys in Washington County. Localized areas of high-risk concentrations of radon are also found throughout the county.

Testing for radon is easy. Do-it-yourself test kits are available at local home improvement stores or online. Trained contractors are also available. Test kits work by being opened and placed in a room that is used regularly on the lowest level of the home for a designated amount of time. The kit is then resealed and sent to a lab specified on the package for analysis. Be sure to follow all instructions on your test kit. Test results are usually available within a few weeks. (visit radon.utah.gov for more information)

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends action be taken on homes with test results above 4pCi/L (4 picocuries per liter of air) to reduce indoor radon concentrations. There are several radon hazard-reduction techniques available for about the same cost as other home repairs.

"Great advancements in lung cancer treatments have been made in recent years," said Donaldson. "But the bottom line still comes down to prevention. Don't smoke anything. Do what you can to avoid taking cancer-causing particulates into your lungs, and test your home for radon."

Any level of radon exposure carries some risk for lung cancer. Approximately one in every three Utah homes contains radon. Most people don't even know it's there. Test your home today.