Exposure to radon and heavy particulate pollution and incidence of brain tumors

Joshua D. Palmer, Rahul N. Prasad, Gino Cioffi, Carol Kruchtko, Nicholas G. Zaorsky, Daniel M. Trifiletti, Vinai Gondi, Paul D. Brown, Haley K. Perlow, Mark V. Mishra, Arnab Chakravarti, Jill S. Barnholtz-Sloan, Quinn T. Ostrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Global incidence for brain tumors varies substantially without explanation. Studies correlating radon exposure and incidence are inconclusive. Particulate pollution has been linked to increased tumor incidence. Particulates may disrupt the blood-brain barrier allowing intracranial exposure to oncogenic radon. We investigated the relationship between exposure to residential radon, particulate pollution, and brain tumor incidence in the United States (US). Methods: County-level median radon testing results and annual air quality index values were obtained and divided into tertiles. Counties without both values were excluded. Four groups of counties were generated: high particulate/high radon (high/high), high/low, low/high, and low/low. Using incidence data from the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the US (provided by CDC's National Program of Cancer Registries and NCI's SEER), annual age-adjusted incidence rates (AAAIRs) by group were generated by behavior. Incidence rate ratios were calculated to examine for significant differences (α = .05). Poisson regression accounting for possible confounders was conducted. Results: Counties with available data included 83% of the US population. High/high exposure was significantly associated with increased AAAIR of all non-malignant tumors (up to 26% higher, including most meningiomas) even after accounting for potential confounders. An increased AAAIR was noted for all malignant tumors (up to 10% higher), including glioblastoma, but was negated after accounting for demographic/socioeconomic differences. Conclusions: We present the first report suggesting increased non-malignant brain tumor incidence in regions with high particulate and radon exposure. These findings provide insight into unexplained variation in tumor incidence. Future studies are needed to validate these findings in other populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-417
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2023


  • air pollution
  • brain tumors
  • incidence
  • meningioma
  • radon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cancer Research


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