Not heard of radon? You’re not alone. Despite being an established environmental carcinogen (cancer causing agent), it doesn’t get nearly the press it deserves. For example, you have probably heard more about PCBs in fish than you have heard about radon in your home. Yet radon gas is estimated to be responsible for 20,000 cases of lung cancer in the U.S. and 3,000 in Canada. In fact, radon is the #1 environmental cause of cancer deaths.
It has the notorious distinction of being the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. My motivation to write this Cancer Bites blog on the subject of radon comes from knowing 2 young women, both diagnosed recently with non-small cell lung cancer. Neither of these women were smokers.
Reducing my Risk of Lung Cancer
Like my other Cancer Bites blog posts, I want you to understand you are not powerless in your ability to reduce your risk of cancer. There are many changes you can make to your diet, lifestyle, and home environment that can help to reduce your risk. If you want to feel confident that you are doing everything you can to reduce your risk, then I invite you to book a session with me.
What is Radon?
Radon is a colourless, odourless, radioactive gas. It literally flies below the radar – both in terms of our awareness of it and our ability to detect it.
While it is present in ground water, air and soil, our greatest exposure comes in our own homes – yes, our homes. This is because when radon enters the enclosed air of our homes, it can accumulate to higher levels than outside. We can also be exposed in other buildings- offices and schools, for example. Testing your home is the only way to know the radon levels as the age of the building is not an indicator of the radon level.
How Does it Get Into My House?
Radon, which is given off by soil or rock, can enter buildings through cracks in the floors, walls, foundation and construction joints around pipes, wires or pumps.
Your home acts like a vacuum, pulling gas in from its surrounding environment. This is because air exchanges, exhaust fans, and clothes dryers force air out of the home. The home then has a lower air pressure then the outside and pulls air in. The main source of this is air from the ground surrounding your home.
But interestingly, two houses side by side can have different radon levels. So, you can’t only look at radon levels in the soil, the home itself has to be tested.
Do I have Radon in my Basement?
The highest levels or radon in the home are found in the basement. In your childhood home, did you spend a lot of time in the basement? Maybe you called it the rumpus room, the downstairs, or playroom. In many homes, like my own, it was kid territory. And kids may be more vulnerable to exposure effects given that they have more years for the radon gas exposure to develop into cancer.
How do I Know if My Home Has Radon?
The first step is to test your home for radon gas. You can do this yourself or hire a professional. If you do it yourself, you can purchase a test kit from a hardware store, or you can order a radon test kit on line. If you hire it out, then contact a professional who is certified under the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program.
The kit I ordered also includes the price of the testing, so make sure you consider that when you are making your purchase. You can choose a short term test kit, these are in the home for 2-7 days. This might be used in the case of buying a new home or when you need an estimate quickly, but for more accurate results in your own home, Health Canada recommends a longer test – a minimum of 3 months, ideally between September to April when doors and windows are closed more often.
What If My Home Tests High for Radon?
There are several strategies outlined by the Canadian Cancer Society to reduce radon gas in your home, such as:
- Sealing cracks and holes in basement floors and walls
- Installing an active soil depressurization system
- Covering sump pumps and drains
- Increasing air circulation with a ventilation system
How Do I Reduce My Risk of Lung Cancer?
The main risk reduction strategy for lung cancer is to quit smoking. It is well established that smoking is a cause of lung cancer. Smoking plus radon exposure is a deadly cocktail. Health Canada lists lung cancer risk this way:
If you are a:
Lifelong smoker + no radon exposure, risk of lung cancer = 1 in 10
Lifelong smoker + radon exposure, risk of lung cancer = 1 in 3
Non smoker + radon exposure, risk of lung cancer = 1 in 20
Bottom Line for Radon:
Have your home tested for radon and take the appropriate measures if results are high. This is one of the many changes you can make in your life to help reduce your risk of cancer. Keep in mind there are countless changes you can make in your diet and lifestyle that will help to reduce your risk or cancer too. If you would like a personalized analysis of your eating habits (done over the phone, from the comfort of your home), then let me know, I would be happy to get you started on this. Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org