Radon, a radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of certain metals in rocks and soil, is commonly known to be a cause of lung cancer. However, new research published in Neurology suggests that high levels of radon exposure may also be linked to an increased risk of clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential (CHIP) in middle-aged to older female participants with ischemic stroke.
CHIP is a condition that occurs when genetic mutations in hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for producing all blood cells, lead to an increased replication rate of affected cells. Previous studies have indicated that individuals with CHIP have a higher risk of developing blood cancers like leukemia and cardiovascular diseases, including stroke.
The study, led by Dr. Eric A. Whitsel of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, aimed to investigate the potential association between high radon levels and the development of CHIP. The research involved 10,799 female participants, with an average age of 67, more than half of whom had previously experienced a stroke or blood clots.
In order to determine radon exposures, the researchers used participants’ home addresses and linked them to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on average indoor radon concentrations by county. The EPA recommends that average indoor radon concentrations should not exceed four picocuries per liter (pCi/L).
The participants were then divided into three groups based on their radon exposure levels. The highest group lived in areas with average radon concentrations above four pCi/L, the middle group resided in areas with concentrations between two and four pCi/L, and the lowest group lived in areas with concentrations below two pCi/L.
Genetic testing was conducted to identify participants with CHIP mutations. The results showed that 9.0% of participants living in areas with the highest radon concentrations had CHIP, compared to 8.4% in the medium concentration group and 7.7% in the lowest concentration group.
After adjusting for factors such as age, education, race, and ethnicity, the researchers found that participants with ischemic stroke who lived in areas with the highest radon concentrations had a 46% increased risk of CHIP, while those living in areas with medium concentrations had a 39% increased risk, compared to those in areas with the lowest concentrations. The increased risk of CHIP was not observed in participants without stroke.
Dr. Whitsel noted that the results suggest an association between radon exposure and CHIP specifically in participants with ischemic stroke. However, the underlying reason for this association has yet to be determined. Further studies are needed to explore the potential links between radon exposure and stroke, as current public health efforts only focus on radon’s association with lung cancer.
It is important to note that the study only included middle-aged to older female participants, so the results may not be generalizable to other populations.
In conclusion, this research highlights the potential health risks associated with high radon exposure, extending beyond lung cancer. The findings suggest a possible link between radon and the development of CHIP in females with ischemic stroke, emphasizing the need for further investigation into the relationship between radon exposure and stroke.
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