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Prolonged, Low-Level Exposure to Radon and Lung Cancer in Uranium Miners

By: Anna Fanelli
Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2022

Research published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives shows a strong relationship between prolonged exposure to low levels of radon and lung cancer in uranium miners in Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, and the United States who were first employed by 1960 or later. According to the study investigators, improved knowledge of the link between lung cancer and low exposure to radon is necessary to lifetime risk calculation.

“Mining operations today tend to involve lower exposures than in the past, but our study shows that these lower exposures still increase a person’s lung cancer risk. Reducing radon exposure in our workplaces and homes remains an important way to reduce lung cancer,” said senior author David B. Richardson, PhD, of the University of California, Irvine, Program in Public Health, in an institutional press release.

Dr. Richardson and colleagues conducted a pooled analysis of cohort studies of lung cancer mortality among 57,873 male uranium miners first employed in 1960 or later. Researchers then derived estimates of excess relative rate (ERR) per 100 working-level months (WLM) for mortality from lung cancer.

The analysis included 1.9 million person-years of observation and 1,217 deaths due to lung cancer. The relative rate of lung cancer increased in a linear fashion, with cumulative exposure to radon progeny (ERR/100 WLM = 1.33; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.89–1.88). The association was modified by attained age, age at exposure, and annual exposure rate; for attained ages up to 55  years, the ERR/100 WLM was 8.38 (95 % CI = 3.30–18.99) among miners who were exposed at age 35 or older and at annual exposure rates of less than 0.5 working levels.

“Our study underscores the need for better protections and sets a strong foundation to build a new generation of models for developing estimates on the risk of lung cancer after low-level radon exposure, which is the primary contemporary concern,” Dr. Richardson commented.

Disclosure: The study authors reported no conflicts of interest.


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