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Colorectal cancer: a new smoking risk

Results of a new study by the American Cancer Society show that around 12 per cent of colorectal cancer deaths in the US are attributable to smoking.

The prospective US study began in 1982, and included 312,000 men and 469,000 women. Individuals who were smokers at the start of the study had an increased risk of death from colorectal cancer compared with those who never smoked.

Colorectal cancer is not currently listed by any national or international organisations as a smoking related cancer. But, with more than 130,000 new cases and 56,000 deaths from colorectal cancer each year in the US, a large number of people may be affected.

In the past, studies have failed to find a link between cigarettes and colorectal cancer. However, this study suggests a lag of 30-40 years between the initial damage caused by the carcinogens in cigarette smoke and the development of colorectal cancer.

For male smokers, the risk of developing cancer was 1.32 times greater than in non smokers. For women, it was slightly higher at 1.41.

Those who quit smoking during the trial had a significantly reduced risk of death from colorectal cancer. If ex smokers also increased their physical activity and changed their diets, the risk was reduced even further (J Natl Cancer Inst, 2000, 92: 1888-96).

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Radon: - The secret killer in your home, and what you can do about it

Think of lung cancer, and you probably instinctively think of cigarette smoking. But there's another major cause, and it's present in most of our homes - the inert gas radon-222, which occurs naturally from the decay of uranium in the earth's crust.
Although concentrations are low outdoors, it's common in our homes, and at relatively high levels. Levels tend to be lower in urban homes than those in rural areas. The underlying rock in urban areas tends to be sedimentary, and more people live upstairs in apartments.
It's high enough, however, says a new study, to be responsible for 9 per cent of all deaths from lung cancer, and that's after allowing for smoking in the home. The study, carried out by Oxford's Radcliffe Infirmary, is based on reports from nine European countries, and involving 7,148 cases of lung cancer.
So what can you do to reduce the radon levels in your home? Improving ventilation and sealing cracks in concrete floors will do a lot. If you have a suspended timber floor, an air brick or fan would help. If you already have aan air brick, make sure it's not been covered over by vegetation. In the worst cases, where radon levels are known to be high, you may need a sump installed, especially if you have a concrete floor. A sump is effectively a small cavity under the floor from which air is extracted.
It's been estimated that the gas 'significantly affects' 100,000 homes in Britain alone - but of those, just 10 per cent could be bothered to do anything to reduce the levels.
(Source: British Medical Journal, 2005; 330: 223-7)
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