Radon is an invisible, odorless and tasteless gas that is a naturally occurring byproduct of uranium. Radon is classified as a Type A carcinogen, the most potent category of cancer-causing agents according to the Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CERTI). There is known safe level of radon exposure, stresses the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and risk increases with prolonged exposure, reports University of Minnesota Environmental Health Sciences (ENHS).
Radon levels become elevated in indoor environments, and inhalation of radon has been proven to cause lung cancer. According to ENHS, radon exposure is also associated with other respiratory conditions such as emphysema.
Types of lung cancers associated with radon exposure include adenocarcinoma, large cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and small cell carcinoma. The EPA reports, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second-leading cause of lung cancer overall. Radon combined with cigarette smoking increases cancer risk.
Radon gas decays quickly and its decay products stick to lung tissue, exposing the lungs to radiation. The radiation destroys lung cells and causes genetic mutations that can lead to cancer reports CERTI.
Long-term radon exposure has been linked to the development of emphysema, chronic interstitial pneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis and respiratory lesions, according to ENHS. Emphysema is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The air sacs in the lung can become damaged by radon gas, depriving the body of oxygen.
Radon gas exposure results in mutations of chromosomes. It is a genotoxic substance, meaning that it may damage DNA in ways that can lead to cancer and may have other unknown long-term effects. Radon gas is also teratogenic, reports ENHS; it may disturb the development of an embryo or fetus, end a pregnancy or cause birth defects.