Radon exposure linked to blood cancer risk in stroke patients

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Recent research published in Neurology has uncovered a potential new health risk associated with radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas.

Known as a leading cause of lung cancer, radon exposure is now being linked to an increased risk of a condition known as clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential (CHIP) in middle-aged to older women who have suffered an ischemic stroke.

Ischemic strokes, the most common type, occur due to blood flow blockages to the brain.

CHIP arises when hematopoietic stem cells, essential for forming all types of blood cells, mutate genetically as a person ages. These mutated cells tend to replicate faster than normal cells.

Prior studies have indicated that CHIP can heighten the risk of blood cancers, such as leukemia, and cardiovascular diseases, including stroke.

The study, led by Eric A. Whitsel, MD, MPH, from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, focused on understanding whether high radon levels correlate with CHIP, which results from mutations in hematopoietic stem cells. With modern homes becoming more airtight, indoor radon exposure is a growing concern.

Involving 10,799 female participants averaging 67 years old, about half of whom had experienced a stroke or blood clots, the study correlated their home addresses with average indoor radon concentrations provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA advises keeping indoor radon levels below four picocuries per liter (pCi/L).

Participants were categorized into three groups based on the radon concentration in their living areas: high (over four pCi/L), medium (two to four pCi/L), and low (less than two pCi/L). Genetic testing was used to identify participants with typical CHIP mutations.

The findings revealed that 9.0% of those in the highest radon concentration areas had CHIP, compared to 8.4% in medium and 7.7% in low concentration areas.

Particularly striking was the discovery that participants with ischemic stroke living in high radon areas had a 46% increased risk of CHIP, and those in medium radon areas had a 39% increased risk compared to those in low radon areas.

This increased risk was not observed in participants without stroke.

Whitsel highlighted that while the study didn’t find a direct link between radon and CHIP in all female participants, it did suggest an association for those with ischemic stroke.

The exact reasons for this connection are yet to be determined, and further studies are necessary to delve deeper into the potential relationship between radon exposure and stroke.

These findings are particularly significant as current public health measures for radon primarily focus on lung cancer prevention.

A limitation of this study is its exclusive focus on middle-aged or older female participants, meaning the results might not be applicable to other demographic groups.

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The research findings can be found in Neurology.

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