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Radon may increase risk of malignant melanoma

Researchers from Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland caution that residential radioactive gas radon exposure in Switzerland may increase a person’s risk developing malignant melanoma.

The study—Effects of Radon and UV Exposure on Skin Cancer Mortality in Switzerland—was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (June 2017; 125(6):067009–1—067009–8).

During the investigation, the researchers examined the impact of radon and ultraviolet (UV) exposure on mortality due to malignant melanoma in Switzerland.

The investigators analysed 1,900 deaths due to malignant melanoma that occurred in Switzerland between 2000 and 2008 in people aged 20 years and above. The residential radon exposure was modelled on the basis of 45,000 measurements and took into account the housing’s characteristics and the geological conditions of the area.

Radon more dangerous for young people

“Our study shows that, when radon decays, radioactive alpha particles not only destroy lung tissue but can also affect the skin. This has rarely been researched in the past,” says Martin Röösli, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Exposures and Health at Swiss TPH in Basel.

Dr. Röösli wrote the study with Danielle Vienneau, PhD, a senior scientific collaborator in the Department of Physical Hazards and Health at the Institute.

The findings reveal that for 30-year-olds, the relative risk for skin cancer increases around 50% per 100 Bq/mᵌ increase in radon exposure, while for 60-year-olds it is considerably lower (16%). “The younger the individual is, the greater the impact of radon on the risk of developing the disease,” Dr. Röösli said in a press release.

“The strengths of the Swiss TPH study are that it was a longitudinal analysis of the total population of Switzerland and that the effects of radon were modelled for every single household,” added Dr. Röösli.

Radon and skin cancer risk in Switzerland

Radon originates from granitic and metamorphic rocks and the soil. The level of residential radon exposure depends on both the geological condition of the area and on how well a house is sealed against radon vapour intrusion from the soil.

Switzerland has the third highest incidence rate of malignant skin cancer worldwide, which places it far above the central European average. Incidence of malignant melanoma has more than doubled in the last 20 years. With appropriate house construction, residential radon exposure can be significantly reduced.

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