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Release: Feb. 1, 2001

UI researchers receive grant to study link between radon exposure and lung cancer

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa College of Public Health researchers have received a $1,072,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study the relationship between residential radon exposure and lung cancer.

The project, called the Iowa and Missouri Radon Lung Cancer Studies, will build on findings from previous research projects, including the Iowa Radon Lung Cancer Study. That study demonstrated that long-term exposure to radon gas in the home is associated with increased lung cancer risk and presents a significant environmental health hazard.

The new study, which will take place from 2001 to 2005, seeks to determine the association between residential radon progeny (decay products) exposure and lung cancer. Radon decay products deliver the actual radiation doses to lung tissues rather than the radon gas itself.

"The grant provides funding to perform final calibration of a new radon detector that can estimate retrospective radon decay product exposure," said R. William Field, Ph.D., UI research scientist in epidemiology and principal investigator of the study. "The detector measures by-products of the radon gas that have embedded in household glass surfaces. This research will enable us to accurately estimate the risk posed by residential radon decay product exposure by combining data from previous studies that incorporated this state-of-the-art device."

Researchers also will study whether specific lung cancer subtypes are associated with residential radon progeny.

Other UI College of Public Health researchers involved in the study include co-investigators Charles F. Lynch, M.D., Ph.D., professor of epidemiology, and Michael P. Jones, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics. Daniel J. Steck, Ph.D., a nuclear physicist at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., is also a co-investigator in the study.

Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless, tasteless and colorless radioactive gas that is produced by the breakdown of radium in soil, rock and water. Previous studies have shown that Iowa has the highest average radon concentrations in the United States. The high concentrations in Iowa and the upper Midwest are due primarily to glacial deposits left more than 10,000 years ago, Field noted. Researchers estimate that residential radon progeny exposure accounts for approximately 19,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States.