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Study examines increase in lung cancer risk from combined radon and tobacco smoke exposure

In the words of Dr. Ellen Hahn, professor in the University of Kentucky's colleges of nursing and public health, Kentucky has the "triple crown of lung cancer" - the country's highest rate of smoking combined with high rates of second-hand smoke exposure and high levels of radon exposure.

Nationally, lung cancer has the highest mortality rates of all cancers. While the relationship between tobacco smoke and lung cancer is well known, there is less awareness among the general public about the dangers of radon exposure. In the United States, radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer, behind smoking. Second-hand smoke exposure is the third leading cause.

And, if you're exposed to radon and tobacco smoke, either through personal use or second-hand smoke, your risk of lung cancer increases tenfold. Hahn's current study, FRESH (Freedom from Radon Exposure and Smoking in the Home), examines the synergistic risk between tobacco smoke and radon exposure and whether risk can be reduced through dual home screening and subsequent interventions.

Radon is a radioactive soil gas that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It enters buildings through the foundation and plumbing and becomes trapped in indoor spaces. When inhaled, radon causes immediate DNA damage before decaying into lead, which might stay in the body for decades. According to UK's Clean Indoor Air Partnership, exposure to radon is associated with an estimated 15,400 to 21,800 lung cancer cases in the United States each year, an estimated 3-14 percent of the total cases. Most radon-induced lung cancers are thought to be associated with low to moderate radon concentrations.

In Kentucky, radon exposure is variable but high, with about 40 percent of homes estimated to have radon exposure. The Clean Indoor Air Partnership reports that in Northern Kentucky, 19 percent of tested homes were at or above safe levels (4 pCi/L) in 2000-2004, compared with only 7 percent nationally.

Read the full article online: http://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-04-lung-cancer-combined-radon-tobacco.html