Researchers have long established a clear connection between radon and cancer risk. Prolonged exposure to radon poses serious health issues that negatively impact the respiratory, including lung cancer. Radon testing can mitigate these risks, but not all households understand just how serious radon exposure can be. 

What is Radon and Where Does It Come From?

Radon is a naturally occurring gas emitted from the decay of uranium, radium, and thorium. Radon gas is odorless and invisible, and special equipment is required to detect it. In some parts of the country, radon dissolves in groundwater and is released in the water cycle. Especially in rocky geologic areas, radon is more likely to get trapped and build up, increasing the risk of lung cancer upon release. 

It’s important to note that there are trace levels of radon almost everywhere, all the time. Only elevated levels of exposure over long periods of time increase the risk of lung cancer. In most cases, radon enters homes through cracks and gaps in walls, doors, or foundations. Homes with poor ventilation risk a prolonged build-up of radon gas – it’s one of the few drawbacks of modern, well-insulated homes. It’s worth contacting your local health and human health department to determine whether local soil contains elevated levels of uranium. 

Related: Do Volatile Organic Compounds Cause Cancer?

Can Radon Cause Cancer?

Radon gas is radioactive and has a very short half-life. As radon decays, it releases radioactive particles that damage cells in the lungs. So far, researchers have only linked lung cancer to prolonged radon exposure, although evidence suggests an increased risk of blood-borne cancer types like leukemia. 

Radon Cancer Statistics

Smoking remains the most common cause of lung cancer. While a fractional share of lung cancer deaths, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, causing between 15,000 and 22,000 deaths per year. Radon exposure exacerbates death rates among smokers, though over 10% of radon-related lunch cancer deaths per year claim the lives of non-smokers. 

Most households know that radon causes cancer, but too few understand the risk and the importance of regular radon testing. 

What is Radon Testing?

Testing for radon is a simple but lengthy process that needs to account for four primary factors:

  • The soil composition directly below and surrounding the home
  • The ease by which radon enters the home
  • The ventilation levels inside the home
  • Weather variables, including humidity, wind, and barometric pressure

Faster testing methods measure radon levels for two to 90 days, while longer-term options measure radon levels for several months. While relatively easy to use, these tests require a long time to be accurate. 

More Americans need to make the effort. According to the EPA, about 1 in 5 US homes has radon levels above 4 picocuries per liter of air, the agency’s recommended baseline. Testing and addressing these elevated levels could save as many as 5,000 lives per year. 

The National Radon Program at Kansas State University provides a range of resources, including testing kids and technical assistance. Families can also use the National Radon Hotline, which can be reached at 1-800-767-7236, to learn more about radon, cancer, and ways to stay safe. 

Cancer Prevention Starts at Home

With millions of American families facing prolonged radon exposure, we need to do more to educate and support the most at-risk populations. That’s why Less Cancer works tirelessly to engage and represent cancer prevention at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure it gets the attention and investment it needs. You can help; consider donating to Less Cancer today.