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Photo by: Ståle Grut/NRKbeta

Kathy Griffin is sharing new details about her lung cancer diagnosis. The 62-year-old comedian said on Twitter that her doctors believe that radon exposure may be to blame. The tweet was in response to California Congressman Eric Sallwell who vowed to reduce chemical exposure as part of his plan to end cancer in our lifetime.

“YES PLEASE,” Griffin replied. “I had lung cancer and I've never smoked. Doctors have suggested maybe it was from radon poisoning."

Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. It is an odorless, colorless naturally-occurring radioactive gas that can build up to dangerous levels inside homes, offices and schools. Exposure to high levels of radon can cause lung cancer. An estimated 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States are related to radon.

The only way to detect radon in your home is to test the air. Test kits are available at many local hardware stores or can be purchased through the National Radon Program Services. You can also hire a certified radon-testing professional. A short-term test using a kit can take two to seven days, and once the testing period is complete, you seal the kit and send it to a laboratory for analysis.

Dr. Matthew Schabath, epidemiologist

Dr. Matthew Schabath, an epidemiologist at Moffitt Cancer Center, says it’s important to remember to continually test for radon.

“It’s not a one-time measurement,” he said. “Radon is like a running river that ebbs and flows, and it requires constant measurement over time. It could be detected in just one room, a floor of a building or an entire block.”

Griffin was first diagnosed with lung cancer in August 2021.

“I’ve got to tell you guys something. I have cancer,” Griffin tweeted. “Yes, I have lung cancer even though I’ve never smoked!”

She was declared cancer free just months later following surgery and chemotherapy.

Dr. Lary Robinson, thoracic surgeon

According to Dr. Lary Robinson, a thoracic surgeon at Moffitt, the number of never smokers who get lung cancer is increasing, especially in women. Statistics show 25% of women and 10% of men with lung cancer have never smoked.

“Lung cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer worldwide, with over 2.2 million new cases each year,” said Robinson. “The never smoking women with lung cancer is a very distinct group and unlike Ms. Griffin, most are found with late-stage disease. The average age of diagnosis tends to be younger than that of smokers and former smokers.”

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 238,000 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year and 127,000 will succumb to the disease. Only 17% of lung cancers are diagnosed at a potentially curable and localized stage 1, which carries a 5-year survival of 68%-92%. That decreases to 53% with stage 2 disease and 26%-36% in stage 3. The 5-year survival rate is less than 6% with stage 4 disease.