Indoor radon exposure and risk of lung cancer: a nested case-control study in Finland

J Natl Cancer Inst. 1996 Jul 17;88(14):966-72. doi: 10.1093/jnci/88.14.966.


Background: Inhaled radon has been shown to cause lung cancer among underground miners exposed to very high radon concentrations, but the results regarding the effects of residential radon have been conflicting.

Purpose: Our aim was to assess the effect of indoor radon exposure on the risk of lung cancer.

Methods: To investigate this effect, a nested case-control study was conducted in Finland. The subjects of the study were the 1973 lung cancer case patients (excluding patients with cancers of the pleura) diagnosed from January 1, 1986, until March 31, 1992, within a cohort of Finns residing in the same one-family house from January 1, 1967, or earlier, until the end of 1985 and 2885 control subjects identified from the same cohort and matched by age and sex. In September 1992, a letter was sent to all study subjects or proxy respondents explaining the purpose and methods of the study. After giving informed consent, the study participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire on smoking habits, occupational exposures, and other determinants of lung cancer risk and radon exposure. The odds ratio (OR) of lung cancer was estimated from matched and unmatched logistic regression analyses relative to indoor radon concentration assessed by use of a 12-month measurement with a passive alpha track detector. RESULTS. Five hundred seventeen case-control pairs were used in the matched analysis, and 1055 case subjects and 1544 control subjects were used in the unmatched analysis. The OR of lung cancer for indoor radon exposure obtained from matched analysis was 1.01 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.94-1.08) per 2.7 pCi/L (100 Bq m-3) after adjustment for the cigarette smoking status, intensity, duration, and age at commencement of smoking by subjects. For indoor radon concentrations 1.4-2.6, 2.7-5.3, 5.4-10.7, and 10.8-34.5 pCi/L (50-99, 100-199, 200-399, and 400-1277 Bq m-3, respectively), the matched ORs were 1.03 (95% CI = 0.84-1.26), 1.00 (95% CI = 0.78-1.29), 0.91 (95% CI = 0.61-1.35), and 1.15 (95% CI = 0.69-1.93), respectively, relative to the concentration below 1.4 pCi/L (0-49 Bq m-3). The unmatched analysis yielded similar results with somewhat smaller CIs. In the analyses stratified by age, sex, smoking status, or histologic type of lung cancer, no statistically significant indications of increased risk of lung cancer related to indoor radon concentration were observed for any of the subgroups.

Conclusions: Our results do not indicate increased risk of lung cancer from indoor radon exposure.

Implication: Indoor radon exposure does not appear to be an important cause of lung cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects*
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / adverse effects*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Radon / adverse effects*
  • Risk
  • Risk Factors


  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Radon