People living in areas of high radon exposure warned of lung cancer risk

A cancer expert has warned the public to check whether their homes are in areas of high radon risk, after a new study found that living in such regions increases the risk of a lung cancer diagnosis.

Dr Robert O’Connor, head of research at the Irish Cancer Society, said radon is thought to be responsible for some 250 lung cancer cases in Ireland every year — a rate of more than one new case every second day.

Dr O’Connor’s warning came following the release of an Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) study commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which found a strong link between radon exposure and lung cancer diagnosis in Ireland.

Researchers said this is the case even after accounting for other risk factors, such as smoking history, age, and gender.

The study, the first of its kind, linked data for more than 5,000 people from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) with data on radon exposure risk provided by the EPA.

Householders are advised to take action to mitigate the effects of radon exposure where concentrations are found to go above 200 becquerel per cubic metre.

The ESRI study found that those living in areas where 10% to 20% of houses are above this level are three times more likely to have a lung cancer diagnosis than people in areas where fewer than 1% of houses are above this reference point.

However it also discovered that areas where the risk of radon is highest — where more than 20% of houses are above the national reference point — do not have the highest odds of lung cancer diagnosis.

Researchers believe this may be because households in these areas may have reduced their risk by protecting their homes.

Dr O’Connor said it was “noteworthy” that the combination of smoking with high levels of radon exposure increases the likelihood of a lung cancer diagnosis ten-fold.

“We would urge members of the public concerned about this issue to go onto the EPA website to assess whether they live in an area of high radon risk.

“Recent building regulations require builders to employ radon prevention measures into new homes in at-risk areas, however, older homes in such areas may be at risk.

“High levels of radon can be found in many areas of the country but especially parts of Mayo, Galway, Clare and Wexford.

“If anyone has any concerns about radon exposure, they can contact the EPA to have their home tested for radon for a modest cost,” he added.

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