Cigarette smoke. You can see it and smell it, and you know smoking causes lung cancer.
But another substance found in the air – one you can’t see or smell – could increase your risk for lung cancer, too. It’s radon.
The good news is testing your home for radon could prevent future illness.
What’s radon, and how does it cause lung cancer?
Radon, a naturally occurring chemical element, is released from the decay of radioactive material in the ground. It can seep through cracks in basements, walls, floors or the foundation and collect inside the home.
Radioactive particles in the gas can damage your lungs, and long-term exposure to elevated levels can cause lung cancer.
Is lung cancer caused by radon common?
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. An estimated 20,000 American lung cancer deaths each year are related to radon.
Still, lung cancer risk and the number of deaths associated with smoking are much higher, said Dr. Joel McCauley, a Marshfield Clinic pulmonologist.
Do I have elevated radon levels in my home?
Nearly one in 15 U.S. homes has an elevated radon level.
The problem affects both old and new homes in every state, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Do-it-yourself test kits are sold at hardware stores, or you can hire a professional to check levels in your home.
“Everyone should get their home tested for the presence of radon,” McCauley said.
What should I do about elevated radon levels in my home?
The EPA recommends taking action to reduce radon in homes that have levels at or above 4 picocuries per liter.
Contact a radon mitigation contractor to help you determine the best reduction method for your home. Mitigation systems can reduce radon levels to near zero.
“The key is to test your house, and if radon levels are elevated, call a professional and get it fixed,” McCauley said.
How do I know if radon exposure has affected my health?
Radon exposure doesn’t cause immediate symptoms, but years of exposure to elevated levels can increase your risk of developing lung cancer.
If you experience a cough that doesn’t go away, chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing up blood and/or unexplained weight loss, see your doctor, McCauley said.