Letter to Physicians

Have you tested your home for radon within the past two years? What was the result?

These are two simple questions that I am hoping all physicians will include as part of a new patient’s history and all annual exams. Knowing your patient is breathing safe air should be just as important as knowing his or her cholesterol level or blood pressure.

My state of Iowa has the highest incidence of radon in the country due to its geology and glacial history, but I didn’t learn this until last spring when I was diagnosed with lung cancer. If a physician had told me about radon years ago, I believe my circumstances would be much different today. Six physicians were aware of my situation, but since I am a never-smoker, the follow-up question was whether I had been exposed to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke causes approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually; radon causes 23,000. In Iowa alone, nearly 400 lung cancer deaths are radon-induced – more than the annual number of people killed on Iowa’s highways.

In my experience, physicians have expressed a concern for lack of data regarding the risks of radon. However, through my situation and research, I can assure you that the cancer threat of radon is real. Evidence from the North American pooled analysis, the European Pooled Residential Radon Study, and the Chinese Pooled Analysis indicate that lung cancer risk increases with exposure to radon and carries a higher risk for lung cancer than prior epidemiologic studies have reported. Please educate yourselves and your patients about radon.

Many state radon programs provide free or inexpensive radon test kits to residents; the American Lung Association provides low-cost test kits and also provides a comprehensive physicians guide “Communicating the Health Risk of Radon”. Written testimony from Dr. Bill Field of the World Health Organization and Dr. Jay Lubin of National Health Institute was given to the President’s Cancer Panel in 2008 concerning the danger lung cancer from radon gas exposure. http://www.canceriowa.org/Files/Radon/PCP_Radon_Presentations.aspx.

Lastly, I would ask that you get involved by convincing state legislatures that we need a comprehensive plan to safeguard U.S. citizens from the dangers of radon. New homes should be constructed with passive systems that can easily be converted to actively reduce radon; all real estate transactions need to include a radon test; public education needs to be an ongoing process. You could easily be saving hundreds of lives throughout your medical career just by educating your patients about the danger of radon gas exposure, how easy it is to test for radon, and if the level is elevated the fix is not difficult.

Seeking your participation,

Gail Orcutt
Pleasant Hill, IA
Summer 2011