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J Korean Med Assoc > Volume 62(7); 2019 > Article
Seo, Kang, Lee, and Jin: Health effects and consultations about radon exposure


Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive material classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and is known to be the factor with the second-greatest impact on lung cancer after smoking. An association between radon and lung cancer has consistently been reported in epidemiological studies on mine workers and residents of homes with indoor radon exposure. However, associations between radon and other diseases, such as leukemia and thyroid cancer, have yet to be confirmed due to a lack of consistent research findings and biological relevance. Such associations are unlikely because there is a very low likelihood that organs other than the lungs are exposed to radon upon inhalation due to the short half-life of radon and its progeny and the low permeability of alpha rays. In spring 2018, the radon bed mattress incident occurred, leading to a spike of concern and interest among the public regarding the health effects of radiation exposure. This paper presents a description of radon exposure and its health effects based on the current literature and provides practical information based on health consultations experienced following the 2018 radon mattress incident.

Table 1.
Combined studies (pooled analysis) of occupational radon exposure and lung cancer risk
Source No. of studies Sample size Person-years of exposure No. of lung cancer cases ERR/100 WLM (95% CI)
BEIR IV (5 countries) [10] 5 22,562 433,019 459 1.3 (0.8-2.3)
ICRP 65 (5 countries) [11] 7 31,486 635,022 1,047 1.34 (0.82-2.13)
BEIR VI (7 countries) [12] 11 60,606 888,906 2,674 0.55 (0.27-1.13)
UNSCEAR (6 countries) [13] 14 128,634 3,246,467 5,715 0.59 (0.35-1.00)

ERR, excess relative risk; WLM, working level month; CI, confidence interval; BEIR, Committee on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiations; ICRP, International Commission on Radiological Protection; UNSCEAR, United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

Table 2.
Combined studies (pooled analysis) of occupational radon exposure and lung cancer risk
Country No. of studies Analysis type Sample size Assessment indices Radon level (Bq/m 3) Risk estimate (95% CI)
Case Control
Worldwide (5 countries) [14] 8 Metaanalysis 4,623 6,612 ERR At 150 0.14 (0.0-0.3)
Worldwide (10 countries) [15] 17 Metaanalysis 9,127 16,449 OR At 150 1.24 (1.11-1.38)
China [16] 2 Metaanalysis 1,050 1,996 OR At 100 1.33 (1.01-1.36)
USA [17] 7 Pooled analysis 3,662 4,966 EOR Per 100 0.11 (0.00-0.28)
Europe (9 countries) [18] 13 Pooled analysis 7,148 14,208 ERR Per 100 0.16 (0.05-0.31)
Worldwide (10 countries) [19] 22 Metaanalysis 13,380 21,102 ERR Per 100 0.07 (0.04-0.10)
Spain [20] 7 Pooled analysis 523 892 OR ≤100 1.00
            101-147 1.14 (0.80-1.64)
            148-199 1.25 (0.85-1.85)
            ≥200 1.73 (1.27-2.35)

CI, confidence interval; ERR, excess relative risk; OR, odds ratio; EOR, excess odds ratio.


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