The facts

  • Radon increases your risk of lung cancer
  • The higher the radon, the longer the exposure, the greater the risk
  • Radon causes over 1,100 deaths from lung cancer each year in the UK
  • The risk from radon is higher if the person is an ex-smoker and significantly greater for current smokers.

The explanation

Radon produces a radioactive dust in the air we breathe. The dust is trapped in our airways and emits radiation that damages the inside of our lungs. This damage, like the damage caused by smoking, increases our risk of lung cancer.

How can I reduce my risk?

  • Find out if you live in a radon risk area
  • If you do, measure your home
  • If the radon is high, reduce it
  • If you smoke, give up

What is the evidence?

A European study, funded by Cancer Research UK and the European Commission showed that radon in the home increases the risk of lung cancer1. An independent report, Radon and Public Health estimated that radon is a cause in over 1,100 lung cancer deaths each year in the UK2.

Radon risks: details

The life-time risk of lung cancer due to radon is greatest for smokers.

Indoor radon level (Bq m-3) Non-smoker Ex-smoker gave up at age 30 Ex-smoker gave up at age 50 Current smoker
20 Less than 1 in 200 1 in 60 1 in 18 1 in 7
200 1 in 190 1 in 48 1 in 14 1 in 5
800 1 in 100 1 in 28 1 in 8 1 in 3

Other radiation sources

Any radiation exposure carries a risk: the higher the exposure the higher the risk.

Risks other than lung cancer

It is mainly our lungs that are exposed to and damaged by radon. There is no consistent evidence that radon causes cancers elsewhere, or other harm.

Further information

  1. Radon in homes and risk of lung cancer: collaborative analysis of individual data from 13 European case-control studies. BMJ, 330, 223-237.
  2. Radon and Public Health. Report of an independent Advisory Group on Ionising Radiation. Chilton, Docs RCE 11, PHE 2009. Available as a free PDF download