New Iowa Cancer Report focuses on preventing lung cancer - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

New Iowa Cancer Report focuses on preventing lung cancer

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More than six thousand Iowans will die from cancer this year and more than 17 thousand new cases will be diagnosed, according to a new report released Wednesday by the State Health Registry.

While the numbers are sobering, health officials are learning more about preventing the number one killer.

Gail Orcutt of Pleasant Hill, Iowa had little reason to fear the worst when she developed respiratory symptoms that sent her to the doctor.

"I didn't feel sick so I didn't know why I was coughing and wheezing," Orcutt said.

Orcutt eats right, exercises, and doesn't smoke.

So she was surprised when tests revealed she had lung cancer.

"It was just like being knocked to the floor. I couldn't imagine being told I had lung cancer," she said. 

Searching for answers, Orcutt tested the radon levels in her home finding the levels were elevated well above the EPAs recommendations.

Doctors believe the elevated levels of this gas were responsible for her cancer

"I'd go back and think what if a physician had just asked me if I had tested, my home, I would have known."

Health officials say Orcutt's experience is not unique.

"Seven out of ten homes tested in Iowa have radon levels exceeding the EPA recommended level," said Dr. Charles Lynch, medical director of the State Health Registry of Iowa. 

Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of uranium in soil.  It gets in the house through cracks in the foundation.

The gas may be invisible and odorless, but officials say it is measurable.  Testing every two years is the only way to protect against its health risks.

"We know that having high radon remarkably increases the chances of non-smokers getting lung cancer," said Dr. George Weiner, director of the University of Iowa's Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Orcutt says she's lucky doctors detected her cancer early.  She is now cancer free.

She wants others to learn from her experience.

"It's just become a passion with me to try and let as many Iowans as I can know about radon because nobody should have to go through what I did," she said.

While radon is a contributor to lung cancer, tobacco use is still the number one cause.

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