Health effects of radon: a review of the literature

Int J Radiat Biol. 2009 Jan;85(1):57-69. doi: 10.1080/09553000802635054.


Purpose: Radon is natural radioactive noble gas that can be found in soil, water, outdoor and indoor air. Exposure to radon accounts for more that 50% of the annual effective dose of natural radioactivity. The purpose of the current review is to summarize recent literature and evaluate the weight of evidence on the adverse health effects of radon.

Conclusions: Radon is an established human lung carcinogen based on human epidemiological data supported by experimental evidence of mutagenesis studies in cell culture and laboratory animals. Extrapolation from cohort studies on miners suggested that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer death after tobacco smoke. The majority of studies on the relationship between radon and other types of cancers showed weak or no association. Low levels of radon can be found in drinking water; however, radon released during water usage adds small quantities to indoor radon concentration. Studies showed that the risk of stomach cancer and other gastrointestinal malignancies from radon in drinking water is small. Studies of the genetic and cytogenetic effects of indoor radon yielded equivocal results; while radon exposure in miners induces gene mutations and chromosomal aberrations. Numerous in vitro cytogenetic studies demonstrated that radon induces different types of genetic and cytogenetic damage that is likely to play a role in radon lung carcinogenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects
  • Animals
  • Chromosome Aberrations / radiation effects*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Mining
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Radon / adverse effects*
  • Water Pollutants, Radioactive / adverse effects


  • Water Pollutants, Radioactive
  • Radon