Picture of Janet WhiteheadJanet Whitehead works and lives in Vancouver, BC. She is the mother of 3 children and has a granddaughter.


Five years ago I was diagnosed with lung cancer. I had most of my left lung and lymph nodes removed in my first surgery and tumours removed from my right lung in a second surgery three months later. I’ve never smoked.

It was a huge shock. Like most people, I thought only people who smoked got lung cancer. But that’s not the case.

Through my husband’s work, I am aware of radon gas and the fact that it is a leading cause of lung cancer. We sent radon detectors to the two homes where we had lived in eastern Canada. One of the homes, located in the heart of Ottawa, tested a staggering 16 times above the Health Canada radon guideline of 200 Bq/m3 and 32 times the WHO radon guideline of 100 Bq/m3. I worked from home and was exposed to this excessive amount of radiation for over five years. The good news is that the home has now been successfully mitigated for radon, and is completely safe for the current homeowner and family.

Health Canada recommends that all Canadians test their homes for radon as it is the only way to know if you are at risk. As yet there are no national or provincial requirements to test homes, workplaces or schools in Canada, and this clearly needs to happen.

Because of Canada’s geology, there are radon hot spots throughout the country. Radon is a radioactive and carcinogenic gas that is in every indoor environment to some degree. It occurs randomly, so your home may be high, but others on your street may not be. That’s why everyone should test their home.

Our granddaughter just started kindergarten. Her classroom is in a basement in an old school. You can bet I am going to be asking the principal if this space has been tested. I would like to supply them with monitors so I know that Maya will be safe.

I had an excellent family doctor, who did not minimize my concerns and was determined to identify the cause of my condition. My symptoms were a persistent cough, which would not go away, and breathlessness. These symptoms are often associated with a heart condition, as well as lung cancer and many doctors, after eliminating the heart, would not scan the lungs in a non-smoker. I am here today because my doctor was determined to get to the bottom of the problem and sent me for a CT Scan, which revealed the cancerous tumours in my lungs.

The care I received at Vancouver General Hospital was excellent, although everyone I came into contact with asked me the same question, “So you smoked ?”

“No, “ I would reply.

“You must have worked with smokers then.”

Again my answer was no.

When I mention that radon is a poisonous and deadly gas and my exposure to it was in Ottawa, people look amazed – I am not sure they believe me sometimes.

I am sharing my experience because I want to urge family physicians and the medical community to get behind the indisputable fact that exposure to radon gas causes lung cancer. I would like to see the government pass legislation that requires all homes, workplaces and schools to be tested. And lastly, I ask all homeowners and renters to test where they live, and urge everyone they come into contact with to do the same – radon-induced lung cancer is real and can be prevented.