Radon, lung cancer related as leading causes of death

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's been 48 years since U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Luther L. Terry issued the first warning about smoking being linked to lung cancer, but the message still needs to be heard.

Lung cancer now surpasses breast cancer as the number one cause of death among women, probably because while advances have been made in breast cancer detection and treatment, lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of any cancer.

From the time of diagnosis, between 11 and 15 percent of those afflicted will live beyond five years, depending on demographic factors.

There's little question that smoking is the main cause, causing an estimated 160,000 cancer deaths in the U.S. every year.

But while most of us have heard that message, another problem, which when combined with smoking multiplies a smokers' chance of getting lung cancer, has yet to sink in.

The problem is radon, the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second leading cause overall, according to EPA estimates. Radon causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year, including about 2,900 among people who have never smoked.

Clearly, just because we don't smoke, or live around people who do, we're not off the hook.

During January's National Radon Action Month, the Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department and other officials are urging the public to take a new look at the threat of radon and what we should do about it.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that you cannot see, taste or smell. It comes from the decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It typically travels upward through the soil, entering your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation walls and floor. Your home traps radon inside where it can build up. Sometimes radon enters through your home's well water.

Nearly one in 15 homes in the United States is estimated to have elevated radon levels, and the gas can also be present in schools and work places.

Much of Southwest Nebraska has elevated levels of radon, according to Nebraska Radon Program testing data.

If, following a long-term or short-term test, you find radon present, there are several proven methods for reducing the levels in your home. One pulls the radon gas from beneath the house and vents it outside. Sealing foundation cracks and other openings makes the system more effective and cost-efficient.

A similar system may be used in homes with crawl spaces, depending on the design of your home and other factors. The average repair costs about $1,200, although they may range from $800 to $2,500.

Contractors have begun building new homes with radon in mind, and remediation is cheaper if a passive radon system is installed during construction.

With most homes buttoned up for the winter, January is a good time to find out whether radon is a problem in your home, and what can be done about it. Contact the Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department at (308) 345-4223, e-mail them at envhealth@swhealthdept.com or visit www.swhealthdept.com for more information.

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