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Can Radon Cause Thyroid Cancer

Protect Yourself And Your Family From Radon

Approach to a Thyroid Nodule – causes, investigation and treatment

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States after smoking.

Radon is an odorless and invisible radioactive gas naturally released from rocks, soil, and water. In outdoor environments, radon levels are very low and generally not considered harmful.

Radon can get into homes or buildings through small cracks or holes and build up to higher levels. Over time, breathing in high radon levels can cause lung cancer.

The good news is that lung cancer from radon is preventable. Learn how to:

According to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Radon causes over 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.
  • 1 in 15 homes in the United States have high radon levels.

Radon is a gas that you cannot smell, taste, or see. Radon forms naturally when uranium, radium, and thorium break down in rocks, soil and groundwater. People can be exposed to radon primarily from breathing radon in air that comes through cracks and gaps in buildings and homes.

Breathing in radon can cause health problems. Radon is estimated to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, responsible for over 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

  • You can take steps to reduce high radon levels in your home.
  • Testing your home is the only effective way to find out if you have a radon problem.

Who Is At Risk Of Radon Exposure

CE Original Date: June 1, 2010CE Renewal Date: June 1, 2012CE Expiration Date: June 1, 2014

Upon completion of this section, you will be able to

  • Identify the population with the highest risk of exposure to increased levels of radon gas,
  • Identify those at risk from exposure to radon as an environmental cause of lung cancer deaths, and
  • Identify the estimated risk of lung cancer from radon exposure for persons who smoke cigarettes as compared with those who have never smoked.

Everyone is exposed to radon, but some populations described in the literature are at higher risk of exposure to increased radon levels. In addition, some populations are more at risk of adverse health effects from radon exposure.

Radon exposure is, after tobacco smoke, the leading environmental cause of lung cancer death . Thus for nonsmokers, radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer death, period .

The risk of lung cancer from radon exposure is estimated at between 10 to 20 times greater for persons who smoke cigarettes as compared with those who have never smoked.

Theory holds that everyone is at risk from radon exposure, and this health risk increases linearly with dose.

Radon exposure is the second-leading environmental cause of lung cancer death, after tobacco smoke , and the leading cause of lung cancer death for nonsmokers .

  • Radon exposure is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States .

At Home And In Other Buildings

For most people, exposure to radon comes from being indoors in homes, offices, schools, and other buildings. The levels of radon in homes and other buildings depend on the characteristics of the rock and soil in the area. As a result, radon levels vary greatly in different parts of the United States, sometimes even within neighborhoods. Elevated radon levels have been found in parts of every state.

Radon gas given off by soil or rock can enter buildings through cracks in floors or walls construction joints or gaps in foundations around pipes, wires, or pumps. Radon levels are usually highest in the basement or crawl space. This level is closest to the soil or rock that is the source of the radon. Therefore, people who spend much of their time in basement rooms at home or at work have a greater risk for being exposed.

Small amounts of radon can also be released from the water supply into the air. As the radon moves from the water to air, it can be inhaled. Water that comes from deep, underground wells in rock may have higher levels of radon, whereas surface water usually has very low radon levels. For most people, water does not contribute much to overall exposure to radon.

According to the EPA, the average indoor radon level is about 1.3 picocuries per liter . People should take action to lower radon levels in the home if the level is 4.0 pCi/L or higher. The EPA estimates that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States has elevated radon levels.

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How Environmental Toxins Harm The Thyroid

The prevalence of thyroid disease has skyrocketed within the past few decades. According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. This alarming trend begs the questionwhat is responsible for the epidemic of thyroid dysfunction? A growing body of research indicates that exposure to environmental toxins is a key piece of the thyroid disease puzzle. Read on to learn about the types of toxins that are harmful to the thyroid and how you can help your patients minimize their toxic exposures and protect their thyroid health.

Where Can People Find More Information About Radon


The National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University is funded by the EPA and aimed at promoting public awareness of radon, increased testing, and the reduction of radon in homes, schools, and buildings. It provides a variety of resources, including the National Radon Hotlines, referrals to state radon programs, radon test kit orders, radon mitigation promotion, and other technical assistance and outreach activities.

Consumers can contact the National Radon Hotline at:

  • 1â800âSOSâRADON to reach an automated system for ordering materials and listen to informational recordings
  • 1â800â55âRADON to contact an information specialist, or by sending an

More information is also available online from the EPA.

Selected References
  • Alavanja MC, Lubin JH, Mahaffey JA, Brownson RC. Residential radon exposure and risk of lung cancer in Missouri. American Journal of Public Health 1999 89:1042â1048.

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    Former Us Surgeon General Richard H Carmona Releases National Health Advisory On Radon

    U.S. Surgeon General, Richard H. Carmona, issues a Health Advisory warning Americans about the health risk from exposure to radon in indoor air. The Chief Physician urged Americans to test their homes to find out how much radon they might be breathing.

    Dr. Carmona also stressed the need to remedy the problem as soon as possible when the radon level is 4 pCi/L or more, noting that more than 20,000 Americans die of radon-related lung cancer each year.

    Radon And Lung Cancer

    To shed some more light on this topic, it is only imperative that we employ some statistics to try to decipher the same and arrive at a more conclusive and factual determination. Radon has been proven to be the second biggest cause of lung cancer and related deaths in the United States. Definitively, it is believed that around 17,000 to 23,000 people die annually in the US due to radon-related lung cancer. The leading cause of lung cancer cases is said to be cigarettes. People who are big or huge smokers are more prone and susceptible to cancer emanating from radon exposure and inhalation since their lungs are already compromised from the onset. It is crucial to mention this to avoid the blurriness that has marred this topic for decades. Radon and cigarettes can cause cancer independently but smokers are at a higher risk of radon-related cancer demise. It is also prudent to state that radon alone can also cause lung cancer even to nonsmokers as an estimated 10% often succumb to the same.

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    Reducing Your Risk And Other Possible Causes

    You might have heard of other possible causes of cancer. Stories about potential causes are often in the media and it isnt always clear which ideas are supported by evidence.

    We havent included them here, either because there is no evidence about them or it is less clear.

    • A pooled analysis of thyroid cancer incidence following radiotherapy for childhood cancer LHS Veiga and others

    • Cancer. Principles and practice of oncology VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA RosenbergLippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2018

    • The fraction of cancer attributable to known risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the UK overall in 2015KF Brown and othersBritish Journal of Cancer, 2018. 118, Pages 1130-1141

    • Family History of Cancer and Risk of Sporadic Differentiated Thyroid Carcinoma

      L Xu and others

    • Papillary thyroid cancer: Clinical features and prognosis

      R Tuttle and others

    The Problem With Cancer Clusters

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    The federal government defines clusters as a “greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time.”

    Determining whether it’s mere chance or of pressing public concern can be a tall order for health officials.

    Still, health experts say, there are general parameters: All of the cases in a cancer cluster must be the same type, the cancer must be limited to a specific area for instance, a ZIP code or a workplace and the diagnoses must have been confirmed within a given period. This accounts for the fact that some cancers can take years or decades to develop.

    Health officials review cancer rates to see if the number is in fact higher than what is normally reported in that area. In addition, they note the demographics of the patients that way they can find anomalies, like children diagnosed with a cancer that typically affects adults.

    Studies however, can cost millions of dollars, according to Dan Fagin, the director of the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at New York University.

    “Health departments don’t want to investigate because they’re expensive and they often have ambiguous results and they can make people really upset,” Fagin said.

    In his 2013 book, “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation,” Fagin reported that 90 children, including some as young as 6 months old, were diagnosed with cancer in the town from 1979 to 1995.

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    Having Had Cancer Before

    Some studies suggest that people treated as adults for certain cancers have an increased risk of thyroid cancer. These include:

    • non-Hodgkin lymphoma
    • cancer of the food pipe
    • testicular cancer

    It is not known if this is due to treatment for these cancers, common risk factors or inherited genetic changes. In the case of oesophageal cancer, it may be because routine checks after treatment pick up the thyroid cancers.

    Abstract C0: Indoor Radon Exposure And Thyroid Cancer Incidence Among Guam Residents

    Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev

  • Version of Record June 1 2020
  • Candice S. Arceo, Grazyna Badowski, Gary R.W. Denton, Renata Bordallo Abstract C075: Indoor radon exposure and thyroid cancer incidence among Guam residents. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 1 June 2020 29 : C075.

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    Bill Field: Dedicated To Radon Health Risk Education

    Even as an internationally acclaimed radiation expert, with an extensive list of appointments and teeming schedule to match, Dr. Bill Field maintains his commitment to students, workers and cancer sufferers. A lot of times I get calls saying, I have lung cancer and I never smoked,’ said Field, professor in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, with joint appointments in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health and Department of Epidemiology. Its humbling that people come to me for that information.

    Field is recognized as one of the foremost authorities on radon, not only for his research into the radioactive gas, but because of his advocacy and outreach efforts. He helped identify radon as the leading environmental cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and remains dedicated to educating the public about the health risks of radon and ways to reduce exposure in homes, schools and at work.

    A column Field wrote that appeared in the New York Times, for example, describes the manner in which radon accumulates in homes by seeping through cracks, sump-pump pits and other openings. The gas produces radioactive decay particles that can damage the cells that line the lung and lead to lung cancer. Requiring radon testing in schools and revisions that would implement measures in building codes have been met with resistance, but Field remains committed to the efforts.

    Rather than pigeon-hole them, we focus on what their passions are, he said.

    What You Need To Know To Keep You And Your Family Safe

    • Wear a thyroid guard during dental x-rays and CT scans.
    • You do not need to wear a thyroid guard during your mammogram. Continue regular mammography as recommended based on your breast cancer risk and age. Click here to learn about the latest mammography guidelines.
    • Try to keep x-rays of all kinds to a minimum, especially in children. Make sure that a scan is being done only when needed, and that repeat exams are not done more frequently than absolutely necessary. Request that medical records and images be sent to all of the doctors treating you so that they dont ask you to undergo scans that have already been done.


  • Schonfeld SJ. Lee C. Berrington de Gonzalez A. Medical Exposure to Radiation and Thyroid Cancer.Clinical Oncology 2011 23:244-250.
  • Patient Safety: Radiation Exposure in X-ray and CT Examinations. Accessed April 23, 2012. Available at: .
  • Sechopoulos I, Hendrick RE. Mammography and the Risk of Thyroid Cancer.AJR 2012 198:705-707.
  • Kopans DB. Mammograms and thyroid cancer: The facts about breast-cancer screening Accessed April 20, 2012. Found at: .
  • Chen AY, Jemal A, Ward EM. Increasing Incidence of Differentiated Thyroid Cancer in the United States, 1988-2005.Cancer 2009 115: 3801-3807.
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    How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed And Treated

    Lung cancer is usually diagnosed after a visit to your family doctor, who will ask you about your health history, symptoms, and perform a physical exam. You may also take a blood test, or get an X-ray, MRI or CT scan.

    If lung cancer is diagnosed, other tests are done to find out how far it has spread through the lungs, lymph nodes, and the rest of the body. This process is called staging.

    Screening for lung cancer is another important step that can help detect the condition early. With lung cancer, early detection is vital. The sooner the disease is diagnosed, the greater chances of survival.

    “Its unfortunate that there isnt really screening for people who arent smokers yet, but hopefully soon.”Dr. Susanna Cheng

    “Its unfortunate that there isnt really screening for people who arent smokers yet, but hopefully soon,” says Cheng.

    When it comes to treatment, Cheng believes it’s going in a positive direction.

    “In the last 20 years things have transformed significantly. We used to only have chemotherapy, but now it’s based on their pathology and their genetic mutations, which predicts what kind of treatment they get, such as immunotherapy and targeted drugs,” Cheng explains.

    Which Cancers Are Associated With Exposure To Radon

    Radon was identified as a health problem when scientists noted that underground uranium miners who were exposed to it died of lung cancer at high rates. Experimental studies in animals confirmed the results of the miner studies by showing higher rates of lung tumors among rodents exposed to high levels of radon. There has been a suggestion of an increased risk of leukemia associated with radon exposure in adults and children the evidence, however, is not conclusive.

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    How Did Scientists Discover That Radon Plays A Role In The Development Of Lung Cancer

    Radon was identified as a health problem when scientists noted that underground uranium miners who were exposed to it died of lung cancer at high rates. The results of miner studies have been confirmed by experimental animal studies, which show higher rates of lung tumors among rodents exposed to high radon levels.

    How Does Radon Affect Your Health

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    When you breathe in radon, it gets into the lining of your lungs and gives off radiation. Over a long time, that can damage the cells there and lead to lung cancer.

    Radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. If you breathe a lot of radon and smoke, your chance of getting lung cancer is very high.

    About 21,000 people die each year from lung cancer related to radon. Some research has linked radon to other kinds of cancer, like childhood leukemia, but the evidence for that isnât as clear.

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    What Are The Symptoms Of Radon Exposure

    You wonât have symptoms of radon poisoning right away. Instead, health problems from the exposure, such as lung cancer, show up after many years.

    Lung cancer may start as a nagging cough, shortness of breath, or wheezing that doesn’t go away. Other symptoms include coughing up blood, having chest pain, or losing weight without trying. If you notice any of these symptoms, call your doctor.

    There are no routine medical tests that can tell you if youâve breathed in too much radon. And no treatments will clear it from your body. But if you think you may have been exposed, talk to your doctor about whether you should have tests to check for signs of lung cancer.

    How Can I Protect Myself

    You can test your home or office with a radon kit. Some will measure levels for a few days, and others can gather the data for at least 3 months. You leave a small measuring device in a room, and then send it to a lab. You can also hire a professional to test your home or workplace for you. The Environmental Protection Agency website has a list of approved contractors in each state.

    Radon is measured in picocuries. Anything higher than 4 picocuries, or 4 pCi/L, requires action. If you get these results, run another short- or long-term test to be sure. If the levels are still high, contact a certified professional about making repairs to your home or office. This may include sealing cracks or installing a ventilation system so radon doesnât get trapped indoors.

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