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Sandy Woman Gets Lung & Brain Cancer from Radon Exposure

SANDY, Utah (ABC 4 UTAH) - What if someone told you, for $1,500, you could prevent yourself from getting cancer?  That's all it takes to have a radon mitigation system put into your home.  Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.  In our continued partnership with Intermountain Medical Center, we meet one woman passionate about spreading awareness.
"We added the sunroom and walkout basement extended the deck and brought in granite rocks and just really wanted to make it nice," said Lung & Brain Cancer Survivor Jan Poulsen.
In 2002, Jan Poulsen and her husband transformed their home into their dream house, But five years later, she developed a nagging cough.
"She said you have a mast in your lung," said Poulsen.
It was lung cancer.  Doctors only gave her four months to live.
"By the time we find it, it's pretty advanced stage," said Intermountain Medical Center Director of the Lung Cancer Screening Program Dr. Denitza Blagev.
Since Jan isn't a smoker, she looked at another potential cause, radon.
"It's estimated that in Salt Lake County a third of the houses would have high radon levels," said Dr. Blagev.  "If you look at the risk from being exposed to high radon, it can be equivalent to smoking several packs per day.  The only way for people to know for sure is to test their homes."
Radon levels under four picocuries per liter is ok according to the EPA.  At four, it's an action level.  Jan's house had 24 picocuries per liter.  So she paid for a mitigation system.
"They just dig a whole in the cement and scoop the soil around so it gives a pathway for the gases that are living in the soil to come up this pipe and its vented outside to a fan and the fan sucks the gases out and it dissipates it above the rough," said Poulsen.
Levels dropped from 24.9 pCi/L to 1.7 pCi/L.  Mitigation costs $1,5000.
Jan's cancer treatment at $1.25 million.
"I had my right lung removed, I did four months of chemotherapy, and five weeks of radiation," said Poulsen.
After six years cancer free...
"You have a fist sized mass in your head and it's probably lung cancer.  That's where it likes to go," said Poulsen.
Eight brain surgeries later, she's in remission again.  Most of all, she enjoys the moments she would've missed.
"I decided yeah, I'm not done yet.  I'm not done yet," said Poulsen.
Jan Poulsen now fights for radon awareness and pushing legislators to enact a law that would require radon testing.  Dr. Blagev says studies have shown a link between high radon levels and an increased risk of leukemia or lung cancer for kids.  Kids are lower to the ground and breathe more deeply than adults.

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