The genetic mutations caused by repetitive exposure of lung cells to alpha particle radiation from radon will drive cancer formation. Depending on dose, it can take 1-3 decades before lung cancer is diagnosed.

  • Radon is classified as a category 1 carcinogen (cancer causing agent) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Category 1 is only assigned to carcinogens that research and medicine has established to cause cancer in humans and animals with no doubts whatsoever.
  • Like many environmental lung carcinogens, such as tobacco or asbestos, it is repetitive exposure to radon that is relevant to increasing relative lifetime risk of cancer.
  • Cancer occurs when genetic mutations impact how a cell grows, divides and/or spreads. When more genetic mutations accumulate over time, the risk of a cell becoming cancer increases.
  • The chances of getting a radon-induced lung cancer depend on the dose and duration of exposure, with higher exposures for longer periods meaning more genetic mutations greater cancer risk. Dose-for-dose, particle radiation causes a lot more genetic mutations than simple x-rays.

Radon is the 2nd leading cause of all lung cancers and is the primary cause of disease in never-smokers. In Canada, this has accounts for 110,000 cases since 2001 –an enormous burden of disease.

The connection between residential radon and lung cancer was proven directly by several large studies each involving >10,000 lung cancer patients and another >10,000 healthy controls.

The data indicated that there is a ~16% increase in relative lifetime risk of lung cancer for every 100 Bq/m3 of long term radon exposure.

References: Krewski, et al. Residential radon and risk of lung cancer: a combined analysis of 7 North American case-control studies. Epidemiology 16, 137-45 (2005) and also Darby et al. Radon in homes and risk of lung cancer: collaborative analysis of individual data from 13 European case-control studies. Brit. Med. J. 330, 223 (2005).  

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