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To understand how radon can induce lung cancer we need to take a step back and understand a little more about radon itself.

Radon (RN222) is a noble gas.  That means it wont stick or mix with any other substance or gas.
If you breath radon in you're just as likely to breath it out.  Confused?  Radon gas itself is not the main health risk, it's the radon decay products that occur from the break down of radon gas, on average 3.8 days after radon is released from radium.  This is called the half life.

Decay Process

Radon has a half life of 3.8 days.  Radon comes from the breakdown of Radium which comes from the breakdown of Uranium.

As you can see, because of the slow decay of Uranium (4.47 billion years) and Radium (1620 years) Radon has an abundant source for a long time to come.

When radon breaks down it releases Polonium, Bismuth and Lead these are the Radon Decay Products (RDPs) the particles are electrically charged and CAN stick to other material like dust, floors, walls, clothing and lung tissue.

Lung Radon and RDPs are breathed in.
Radon is breathed out.
Some RDPs remain stuck to lung tissue.
Polonium 218 & 214 release Alpha particles.
Alpha particles strike lung cells causing physical and/or chemical damage to DNA.
Alpha particle penetration  Alpha particles are slow and large, having little penetrating power.  On the other hand, because of their large size they can damage living cells if they break down when in contact with those cells, such as lung tissue.

How strong is an Alpha particle?  Click here to learn more.
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