A new study published this week suggests that a link may exist between radon exposure and non-melanoma skin cancer. Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless and colorless radioactive gas found in soil and bedrock. It is also the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Surgeon General’s office estimate radon is responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Until now there has been no firm evidence to suggest it has wider health implications.
Recently, however, researchers from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health (part of the Peninsula College of Medicine & Dentistry) have detected a connection following analysis of data on radon exposure and skin cancer cases from across southwest England. The study builds upon a similar study conducted 15 years ago.
The study found no association between household radon levels and malignant melanoma, or the most common form of skin cancer basal cell carcinoma. However, a link was found between areas where high radon concentrations are found and a particular type of non-melanoma skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
“These findings suggest that the issue of radon and skin cancer deserves a much closer look and we’re planning to develop a more detailed study capable of detecting a direct relationship, if one actually exists."
Dr. Ben Wheeler, lead author
The analysis took account of the way population characteristics, exposure to sunshine and proximity to the coast vary across the region. However, the researchers highlighted people’s exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun as a particularly difficult factor to account for, especially as this represents an important risk factor for developing skin cancer. Despite the limitations of the study, the researchers feel it is an important area needing further investigation.