Editorial: Radon is second leading cause of lung cancer

When it comes to lung cancer, smoking isn’t the only risk. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death around the world, but it can be treated effectively if those most susceptible know their risk.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and while most are aware that smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, not everyone recognizes that prolonged exposure to radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to Jeff Seyler, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.

In fact, radon-related lung cancers are responsible for an estimated 21,000 deaths in the United States each year.

Radon is a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas found in rocks and soil. It is a natural gas emitted from the ground that forms radioactive byproducts. When radon builds up to dangerous levels inside, it could be inhaled and eventually can damage tissue inside your lungs and cause lung cancer, Seyler said.

People with wells most at risk

Radon enters your home, school or office building through cracks in the foundation or even through pipes or the water supply. People with private wells are more at risk than people with community water supply. By sealing your home to keep radon outside, you can significantly reduce your home’s radon levels.

Testing your home is the best way to find out whether you are being exposed to high levels of radon. The Lung Association sells radon kits for $12, available at www.LungNE.org/products or by calling 800-LUNG-USA.

One in four cancer deaths

The statistics for lung cancer are staggering.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 159,480 deaths in 2013 due to lung cancer — this represents 27% of all cancer deaths.

One of the reasons lung cancer is so deadly is that there are little to no symptoms until the cancer has progressed into the later — and less treatable — stages. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, more than 85% of the men and women diagnosed with lung cancer are diagnosed in the late stage when the survival rate is very low.

If the cancer is found in Stage I, the study found that 88% of the individuals diagnosed lived for 10 or more years.

Lifestyle changes

The key to finding cancer at the earliest stage is not only knowing the symptoms, but also taking stock of your lifestyle.

It’s no secret that smoking causes lung cancer. Approximately 87% of all lung cancer deaths can be attributed to smoking, and each year an estimated 3,400 non-smoking adults die from lung cancer as a result of breathing second-hand smoke.

Other risk factors include occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos, metals (such as chromium, cadmium, and arsenic), some organic chemicals, radiation, air pollution, diesel exhaust, paint, and exposure during work in rubber manufacturing, paving, roofing, and chimney sweeping.

Early detection options

Longtime, heavy smokers and those who have been exposed to these environmental factors over a long period of time could benefit from early detection options, including X-rays, CT scans and needle aspirations.

When it comes to raising lung cancer awareness, knowledge is power. For more information visit LungNE.org.