Healthy Living in the North

Radon: What you need to know

Family in house.

Knowing the radon levels within your home allows you, as a homeowner, to make informed decisions about how to best protect your family.

November is Radon Awareness Month in Canada and it’s a great time to test your home for radon gas.

Did you know that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and kills approximately 2,000 people in Canada each year? This was news to me, which is why I wanted to connect with Environmental Health Officer Shane Wadden to learn more.

Here’s what Shane told me:

What is radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas. It has no smell, no colour, and no odour. It is naturally occurring in many northern soils and can build up in your home. The only way to know if a home has high indoor radon levels is to test.

What are the health effects of radon?

Exposure to radon increases your chance of getting lung cancer:

  • Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking.
  • Radon is the primary cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
  • Radon causes approximately 10% of all lung cancers worldwide.
  • Radon kills approximately 2,000 people in Canada each year.
Radon test kit

The only way to know for sure whether your home is high in radon is to test. Long-term radon test kits can be purchased from Northern Health Public Health Protection offices.

How do I test my home?

The only way to know for sure whether your home is high in radon is to test. Health Canada recommends that homes be tested for a minimum of three months (preferably 12 months), ideally between October and April. The detectors should be set up in the lowest lived-in level of your home where you spend at least 4 hours of your time each day. Testing is easy and relatively inexpensive. Long-term radon test kits can be purchased for $25 at one of nine local Public Health Protection offices.

When should I take action?

Radon is measured in bequerels per meter cubed (Bq/m³). This measurement is used to determine the concentration of radon in the surrounding air. The current Canadian Guideline for Radon is 200 Bq/m³. Health Canada recommends that that you take steps to reduce (mitigate) radon levels in your home if you detect radon concentrations greater than 200 Bq/m³. The higher the radon concentration, the sooner the remedial measures should be conducted.

Reducing the amount of radon in your home is easy. Radon levels in most homes can be reduced by more than 80% for about the same cost as other common home repairs such as replacing the furnace or air conditioner. Techniques to lower radon levels are effective and can save lives.

This fall, take a few minutes of your time to test your home to ensure that you and your family are safe. Knowing the levels within your home allows you, as a homeowner, to make informed decisions about how to best protect your family.

Where can I find more information?

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog.

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Cancer and men

Daffodil

Daffodils are popping up all over northern B.C. thanks to the Canadian Cancer Society’s annual Daffodil Month campaign. It’s a great chance to think about cancer prevention, screening, and treatment.

Flowers may be blooming in the Lower Mainland, but in northern B.C., you’re hard-pressed to find spring blossoms in April. There are daffodils everywhere, though, thanks to the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Month! The annual campaign raises funds and shows support for those living with cancer.

We likely all know of someone who has been affected by cancer and, according to the Where are the Men? report, men in northern B.C. have higher rates of new cancer diagnoses and are dying of cancer more often than women.

I sat down with Margaret Jones-Bricker, regional director for the Northern Region of the Canadian Cancer Society BC and Yukon Division to talk about cancers affecting men and what men can do to decrease their risk.

Are men at a higher risk for cancer than women?

When you look at cancers that only men can get, their risk is 100% greater. Such is the case with prostate and testicular cancers. Overall cancer risk and risk for specific cancers can be determined by a lot of other factors besides sex like lifestyle, genetics, age and family history. In Canada, men have a 45% lifetime probability of developing cancer compared with 41% for women.

What cancers should men be particularly concerned about?

The three most common types of cancer in men are lung, colorectal and prostate. Prostate cancer accounts for about one-quarter (24%) of all new cancer cases in men. Breast cancer rounds out the top four most frequently diagnosed cancers in Canada, but is much less common in men.

In the north, we have higher rates of tobacco use, which means higher rates of lung cancer. Smoking is related to more than 85% of lung cancer cases in Canada and men develop lung cancer slightly more often than women.

Approximately 1,000 Canadian men were diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2014. It is the most common cancer in young men 15–29 years of age.

What can men do to decrease their risk of cancer?

The number one thing men can do is if you smoke, stop!

Other ways to decrease cancer risk include lifestyle changes related to physical activity and healthy eating. The Canadian Cancer Society has some great nutrition and fitness recommendations.

Occupational and environmental factors can also impact our health; these include our home and work environments. Have your home tested for radon, which is a factor in lung cancer, second only to tobacco use.

What screening options are available to men? How do they know if they should be screened?

Approximately 5-10 per cent of cancers are related to specific inherited genetic abnormalities. The fact that 1 or 2 family members have been diagnosed with cancer doesn’t mean that you will also develop cancer. This is especially true if the family member is not a first-degree relative or if the cancers are of different types. It is important to discuss screening with your doctor if you have a family history of cancer. Your doctor may suggest testing at an earlier age or using a different test than recommended by the provincial guidelines.

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that men (and women) age 50 and over have a stool test (guaiac-based fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test) at least every 2 years. There is convincing evidence that stool tests with appropriate followup can significantly reduce deaths from colorectal cancer.

Prostate cancer seems to be different. Large, reliable studies haven’t been able to tell us clearly whether it’s a good thing to use these tests to look for prostate cancer. So, we recommend that you talk to your doctor about your risk of prostate cancer and about the benefits and risks of finding it early.

Daffodil

In northern B.C., men have higher rates of new cancer diagnoses and are dying of cancer more often than women. There are, however, things that men can do to decrease their risk of cancer.

Are all cancers preventable?

Up to 50% of all cancers are preventable. Certainly your risk of contracting lung cancer is hugely preventable by quitting smoking.

For other cancers, we don’t always know what the cells in our bodies will do, but we can do our best by following a healthy lifestyle, getting physically active, eating more vegetables and fruit, and limiting our consumption of red meats and alcohol.

Investing in the best research has led to tremendous progress against cancer. We know more about what causes cancer, how it develops, how best to treat it and how we can improve the quality of life of people living with cancer. Today, over 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. In the 1940s, survival was about 25%.

What resources are available for men looking for more information?

The Canadian Cancer Society has information specific to men and downloadable pamphlets on everything from cancer prevention to diagnosis and treatments:

We strongly encourage smokers to use the supports that are available to help them quit smoking and to get access to nicotine replacement therapies through the Lung Association’s QuitNow and the new QuitNow Men websites.

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.

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Want to quit smoking? Quitnow services can help!

Man chops novelty size cigarette with axe

Give tobacco the axe!

As a health care provider, I have witnessed, firsthand, the devastating effects of tobacco.  I tried smoking as a teen and I’m aware of how easily people can become addicted. Because of my experience with tobacco, I encourage people to quit as soon as possible. There is evidence that people who quit smoking in January are more likely stay quit! A new year and new plans may be the key the motivation!

People quit for many reasons – primarily because it’s the best thing you can do for your health. Although quitting can be difficult, even the most addicted tobacco users have been able to escape this addiction.

Whether you use tobacco yourself, or you care about someone who smokes or chews tobacco, take some time to visit Quitnow and explore this comprehensive website that features information and support to help you quit. You can also access the most up-to-date information; receive personal counselling online, by phone or by text; and join peers and experts on chats and forums. Quitnow offers one-to-one counselling by a “Quit Coach” who will work with you to develop a personalized quit plan. There’s also a 24/7 help line that you can access whenever you need to talk to someone who understands what it’s like to quit smoking.

The website has tools and resources to help you plan your quit strategy and develop a personal attack on your addiction. You will learn more about your addiction by taking the addiction quiz to help you understand why you smoke or chew and increase your motivation to live tobacco free.  There is also a cost calculator that shows the financial cost of smoking and how much more money you will have in your pocket when you quit.

You may want to learn about the medication that can help you quit. Quitnow has information about using the nicotine patch and other nicotine replacement therapies, as well as cessation medication, such as Champix and Zyban. These medications may help you manage withdrawal while you are quitting.

Quitnow has recently added information to support people who are quitting tobacco to prepare for surgery. This information was added to support Northern Health’s Stop Smoking Before Surgery Initiative. Northern Health is working together with BC Cancer Agency and the Canadian Cancer Society to ensure that patient are aware of the benefits of being tobacco free before surgery, such as decreasing complications and infections, and shortening their hospital stay.

Quitnow is operated by the BC Lung Association and supported through grant funding from the BC Ministry of Health, under the Healthy Families BC initiative. You can depend on Quitnow services to provide accurate tobacco cessation information and support.

If you use tobacco, you likely want to quit – maybe not today, but soon. I urge you to consider setting a quit date!

Contact Quitnow services online or call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 to connect with a counsellor.

Remember, you can help support your healthy habits with a $300 GC by entering our photo caption contest.

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.

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Radon: Move from risk to “right on!”

radon detector

Have you tested your home for radon yet?

I have always considered my home to be a pretty safe and healthy place for me and my family. I’m careful to use ‘green’ cleaners and detergents, we use the bathroom fan religiously after taking a shower, and we do our best to limit our exposure to chemicals in the things we eat and consume.  Until I started working for Northern Health, however, I had never really heard of a much bigger concern: radon gas.

Radon is an odourless, colourless gas that is a radioactive decay product of uranium in the soil. It can seep into your home through cracks and seams in the basement foundation, around window frames or through sumps in the floor. Because it’s heavier than air, it can build up high concentrations in your home, and here’s the kicker: it can cause lung cancer. In fact, it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

Sixteen percent of lung cancer cases in Canada are attributable to radon gas – that’s over 3,000 people each year! The risk of developing lung cancer from long term exposure to radon gas is 5%, but if you’re a smoker, that risk increases to 1 in 3. Wow! I had no idea that I could be at risk of lung cancer if I didn’t even smoke! And my kids…!

Many of us now have entertainment systems or movie rooms in our basements, or perhaps a teenager that prefers the muffled, dark corners that the basement bedroom has to offer. I had a great plan: as soon as they were a little older, my kids and their toys and loud games would be relegated to the basement for play, and I could regain control of the living room (meaning, stop finding Lego in the couch!). I realized that I had better check it for radon if I wanted to make sure they continued to grow up healthy.

So, I bought a radon detector. It was so cheap ($30) and easy to set up and conduct the test, and I got my results straight from the laboratory. Health Canada recommends using a long-term detector which you set up for 3 to 12 months. The fall season is the perfect time to test, since we keep our doors and windows closed for the most part. The Canadian guideline is 200 Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3), so anything above that is considered high, but above 600 Bq/m3 is considered really high, and you should fix it as soon as possible. And if you find a problem, there are options for fixing it.

Check your house for radon, and protect your family against lung cancer. Then you can say “Radon? Right On!”

Radon detectors are available at all Northern Health Public Health Protection offices, or at major hardware stores. Visit our website for more information.

Or contact us at radon@northernhealth.ca.

Kim Menounos

About Kim Menounos

Kim is a healthy community environments lead, in public health protection, responsible for education and awareness of radon gas. She joined Northern Health in January 2011, and still feels like a newbie! Kim is a slow, but enthusiastic trail runner, and happiest when outdoors with her boys (husband, children AND dog).

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