Radon Gas Exposure May Be Linked to Increased Incidence of Lung Cancer in Nonsmokers

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Long-term exposure to radon gas may be associated with a rise in nonsmoking lung cancer cases, according to a recent consumer survey conducted on behalf of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center–Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC–James).

Lung Cancer in Never-Smokers

Although lung cancer is traditionally more prevalent among those with a smoking history, rates of lung cancer among nonsmokers continue to rise. About 15% to 20% of newly diagnosed lung cancer may occur in patients who have never smoked—many of whom are aged 40 to 60 years.

The symptoms of lung cancer are often the same regardless of whether the patient has smoked and can include a general feeling of being unwell, fatigue, frequent coughing, chest pain, wheezing, shortness of breath, or coughing up blood. These symptoms may be present in diseases too; however, patients who have lingering symptoms that don’t resolve with initial treatment should visit their physicians.

Lung cancer screening is currently available only to high-risk patients such as those aged 50 to 80 years who have a 20 pack-year history, are current smokers, or who have quit within the past 15 years. If detected in its earliest stages, the cure rate for lung cancer can be 90% to 95%. Nonetheless, a majority of cases are not detected until the disease has spread throughout the lung or to other parts of the body, when treatments aren’t as effective.

Role of Radon

Radon gas is a colorless, odorless gas emitted from the underground breakdown of naturally occurring radioactive material that then seeps through building foundations. The gas can linger and silently accumulate in individuals’ homes and lungs unless they know to test for it. Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends regular radon gas testing and corrective measures to lower exposure levels in homes.

“Anyone with lungs can develop lung cancer, and as a community we should be aware and concerned about radon exposure because it's thought to be one of the leading causes of lung cancer in never-smokers—and there is something we can do reduce our risk,” explained David Carbone, MD, PhD, a thoracic medical oncologist and Director of OSUCCC–James. “There are relatively simple tests to measure radon in the home and actions to reduce radon exposure,” he added.

Study Methods and Results

In the recent survey, researchers used the Opinion Panel Omnibus platform to collect information on 1,006 respondents on the Web (n = 976) or telephone (n = 30) from February 2 to February 4, 2024. The margin of error for total respondents is ±3.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The data were weighted to represent the target population of U.S. adults aged 18 years or older. The researchers found that 75% of the respondents had not tested their homes for radon gas and 55% of them were not concerned about radon gas exposure in their homes, communities, or schools.

The researchers emphasized that having high levels of radon gas exposure at school or in the workplace may be just as serious a health hazard as having high-level exposures in the basement. They expressed their support for potential legislation to require radon gas testing at schools, workplaces, and during home sales to help reduce community risk. The effects of radon gas on the lungs may be cumulative and can be delayed by decades.

“[C]hildren playing in [the] basement or going to school today, exposed to unknown levels of radon, could be at risk for developing lung cancer 10, 20, [or] 30 years from now. [B]ecause the gas is totally colorless and odorless, you would have no idea you were being exposed unless you knew the importance of proactively testing,” Dr. Carbone indicated.


The researchers recommended that individuals reduce their exposure and risk of lung cancer by installing radon remediation systems designed to intake air from the basement where radon gas typically lingers; increasing airflow by opening windows and using fans and ventilation in their homes; and sealing cracks in the floors, walls, and foundation. Further, the researchers stressed that patients deemed at risk for lung cancer receive timely screening and those who may be at increased risk as a result of to secondhand smoke, radon gas exposure, or occupational exposures like firefighting talk to their physicians about testing.

“Your health and the health of your family are the most important things you have. Really push to get your concerns addressed if your symptoms aren’t resolving, even if you don’t fit the typical picture of lung cancer. It could truly save your life,” concluded Dr. Carbone.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.