As a nurse who worked with cancer patients for decades, Maureen Quick knew about radon and its link to lung cancer, but she never discussed the issue with patients.

It wasn't until she started pursuing a doctoral degree in nursing two years ago that she fully understood the prevalence of the radioactive gas -- and how little people understand about its health hazards.

She was surprised to learn that radon gas leads to 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States and that Minnesota is one of the leading states for radon concentration levels. She was also surprised at how seldom radon and its dangers came up in clinical settings, when nurses discussed cancer care and prevention with patients and their families.

Today, Quick is making radon awareness the centerpiece of a project on health system change for her doctoral work at St. Catherine University. She hopes to provide guidance to fellow oncology nurses across the state so they can help cancer patients and their families protect themselves against the radioactive gas that seeps into homes and buildings.

"Now that I've been reading and studying this, I've realized how little people know about this potential hazard," Quick said. "I really think we need to do more. I think oncology nurses are a good place to start."

Quick has been working closely with the Minnesota Department of Health on her project, which includes a survey of 40 oncology nurses and their understanding of radon.

Already, Quick has found that many oncology nurses are like her -- they know about poor outcomes for treating lung cancer and are motivated to find cancer prevention strategies. But oncology nurses, she said, are not given enough information about radon or tools to introduce radon education into clinical settings. Her project will include a white paper to fill in some of those gaps and develop strategies nurses can take into their clinical work; this spring she'll deliver the paper at the Oncology Nursing Society's national convention.