An overview of the North American residential radon and lung cancer case-control studies

Document Type


Publication Date



Health and Medical Physics | Physics


Lung cancer has held the distinction as the most common cancer type worldwide since 1985 (Parkin et al., 1993). Recent estimates suggest that lung cancer accounted for 1.2 million deaths worldwide in 2002, which represents 17.6% of the global cancer deaths (Parkin et al., 2005). During 2002, the highest lung cancer rates for men worldwide reportedly occurred in North America and Eastern Europe, whereas the highest rates in females occurred in North America and Northern Europe (Parkin et al., 2005). While tobacco smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer, because of the magnitude of lung cancer mortality, even secondary causes of lung cancer present a major public health concern (Field, 2001). Extrapolations from epidemiologic studies of radon-exposed miners project that approximately 18,600 lung cancer deaths per year (range 3000 to 41,000) in the United States alone are attributable to residential radon progeny exposure (National Research Council, 1999). Because of differences between the mines and the home environment, as well as differences (such as breathing rates) between miners and the general public, there was a need to directly evaluate effects of radon in homes. Seven major residential case-control radon studies have been conducted in North America to directly examine the association between prolonged radon progeny (radon) exposure and lung cancer. Six of the studies were performed in the United States including studies in New Jersey, Missouri (two studies), Iowa, and the combined states study (Connecticut, Utah, and southern Idaho). The seventh study was performed in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The residential case-control studies performed in the United States were previously reviewed elsewhere (Field, 2001). The goal of this review is to provide additional details regarding the methodologies and findings for the individual studies. Radon concentration units presented in this review adhere to the types (pCi/L or Bq/m3) presented in the individual studies. One picocurie per liter is equivalent to 37 Bq/m3. Because the Iowa study calculated actual measures of exposure (concentration × time), its exposures estimates are presented in the form WLM5–19 (Field et al., 2000a). WLM5–19 represents the working level months for exposures that occurred 5–19 yr prior to diagnosis for cases or time of interview for control. Eleven WLM5–19 is approximately equivalent to an average residential radon exposure of 4 pCi/L for 15 yr, assuming a 70% home occupancy.