MS Incidence in UK Is Unrelated to Concentrations of Radon Gas, Researchers Find in Large-scale Study

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radon gas and multiple sclerosis

Researchers at the University of Northampton’s Radon and Natural Radioactivity Research Group (RNRRG) developed a methodology to study whether radon gas, an invisible and radioactive gas known to cause lung cancer, might be a contributing factor in multiple sclerosis. They concluded that the link between the two was weak and not statistically significant.

The U.K. study, titled “Is environmental radon gas associated with the incidence of neurodegenerative conditions? A retrospective study of multiple sclerosis in radon affected areas in England and Wales,” was published in the April issue of the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity.

To explore the geographical link between domestic radon gas concentration and MS incidence, the research team looked at 5 percent of the English population over the course of eight years (2005–12), a study population comprising over 20 million person-years of clinical monitoring (males: 10,056,628, 49.93 percent; females: 10,083,870, 50.07 percent), and representing a mean annual population of 2.5 million individuals. The groups were studied using an England and Wales clinical extraction database, The Health Improvement Network (THIN).

The main finding of the study was that, even though a weak correlation between raised domestic radon concentration and a risk of developing MS could be seen, the correlation was modest and statistically insignificant, and could be attributed to coincidence. However, researchers are confident that the methodology the RNRRG team developed may be useful in future studies with large patient numbers, such as the proposed U.K. national patient database.

University of Northampton funded the majority of the research project, through the Research Excellence Framework grant scheme in 2013, with an extra help from Northamptonshire NHS.

“This paper is a culmination of over ten years collaboration between the School of Science and Technology, the School of Health, local and national NHS institutions and the team managing the clinical database, to develop a viable methodology for such analyses. We look forward to extending our work when larger patient databases become available,” Tony Denman, an emeritus professor of medical physics, said in a press release.

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One comment

  1. Dr. B Carson says:

    The title of the news story should be rewritten. The actual study concluded that there was insufficient data available to confirm or refute the hypothesized association between MS incidence and radon concentration. Therefore, it is not scientifically valid to state that MS is unrelated to radon concentrations. In fact, the study results indicated there was over a 90% chance there was a correlation between radon concentrations and MS. The study also relied on radon data at the postcode level rather than performing actual home radon measurements. As the authors note in their paper, a better study design would “comprise a longitudinal case–control study, measuring radon in the homes of individual MS patients and controls” in high radon areas.

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