Risk Factors of Kidney Cancer

Executive Summary

Risk factors influence the chance of developing cancer (kidney cancer) among individuals, but individuals with no risk factors also develop cancer. The common risk factors for kidney cancer include smoking, age, gender, race, high blood pressure, obesity, severe kidney disorder, overuse of certain medications, cadmium exposure, family history, and long-term dialysis. The other risk factors for kidney cancer are the genetic conditions involving Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome, Birt-Hogg-Dubé (BHD) syndrome, Hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma (HPRCC), Hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell carcinoma (HLRCC), Succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) complex syndrome, Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) syndrome, and BAP1 tumor predisposition syndrome (BAP1 TPS). A higher risk of kidney cancer may be linked to other hereditary disorders. Other hereditary causes of kidney cancer are still being investigated.

Kidney Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors refer to the factors that can increase a person’s chance or probability of developing cancer or any illness. Risk factors are not seen as the direct cause of cancer or disease but can influence its development. We can see that some people with no risk of kidney cancers develop the disease, whereas some others with several risk factors don’t develop. People should closely watch themselves and understand the factors that can be risky for their health and well-being. A good understanding of the factors that can be risky and communicating it on time with your care provider would help you make better healthcare choices and an informed, comfortable lifestyle.

Listed below are the factors that increase a person’s risk of developing kidney cancer:

  • Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of developing kidney cancer or renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Smoking is believed to cause around 25% of kidney cancers in women and 30% in men. The risk depends on how much a person smoke and how long they have been practicing smoking. Studies have revealed that quitting smoking can decrease a person’s risk of contracting kidney cancers and most other kidney disorders.
  • Age: Kidney cancer is usually found among adults. Those People belonging to the age group of 50 to 70 years are at a high risk of developing cancer ​1​.
  • Gender: Generally, renal cell carcinoma is two to three times more common in men than women ​2​. This may be because men are more likely to smoke and get exposed to chemicals than women.
  • Race: Black people or African Americans have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer ​3​
  • High blood pressure: People with hypertension or high blood pressure are more prone to develop kidney cancer. The risk does not seem to lower even if the blood pressure is under control via medication.
  • Obesity: Being obese increases a person’s risk of kidney cancer ​4​. Hence it is vital to follow a healthy lifestyle by eating a proper diet and exercising.
  • Severe kidney disorders: People who have any chronic kidney disorders or whose kidney is not in a healthy condition are at a higher risk of developing cancerous growth in the kidney.
  • Overuse of certain medications: Overuse of certain drugs and medications can be harmful to the body and cause tumors to develop. Painkillers containing phenacetin are linked with transitional cell carcinoma; hence they have been banned in the United States since 1983. Other analgesic and diuretic drugs like acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen, have also been found to increase the risk of kidney cancer.
  • Cadmium Exposure: Some research has shown that exposure to metallic elements like cadmium is likely to cause kidney cancers. A person closely working with welding materials, batteries, or paints are at an increased risk ​5​. And the risk is even higher for those smokers who have had exposure to chemicals like cadmium.
  • Family history: Those with a significant family history of kidney cancer may be more likely to get the disease. Individuals with first-degree relatives, such as a parent, sister, brother or kid, may be affected. If other extended family members, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and cousins, have been diagnosed with kidney cancer, the risk increases even more. Specific circumstances in family members, such as early diagnosis, rare types of kidney cancer, cancer in both kidneys (bilaterality), more than one tumour in the same kidney (multifocality), and other types of benign or malignant tumours, may raise the risk of a hereditary kidney cancer problem. 

If you’re worried about kidney cancer running in your family, get a complete family history and share the results with your doctor. You and your doctor can take action to lower your risk and be proactive about your health by understanding your family history. 

  • Long-term dialysis: Dialysis patients with a long history of dialysis may develop malignant cysts in their kidneys ​6​. These growths are typically discovered early in cancer’s progression and can generally be eliminated before spreading.


Although kidney cancer can run in families from one generation to another, inherited or hereditary kidney cancers connected to a single inherited gene are rare, accounting for about 5% of all kidney cancers. Over a dozen distinct genes have been discovered that raise the risk of kidney cancer, many of which are tied to specific genetic disorders. Most of these symptoms are linked to a specific type of kidney cancer.

The discovery of a specific genetic syndrome in a family can assist a person and their doctor in developing an appropriate cancer screening plan and, in some situations, determining the best treatment options. Only genetic testing can tell you if you have a hereditary mutation. Most experts strongly advise that anybody wanting genetic testing speak with a cancer genetics professional, such as a genetic counsellor, who can explain the dangers and benefits of genetic testing.

The following genetic disorders increase a person’s risk of acquiring kidney cancer:

  • Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome: People who have VHL syndrome are more likely to develop a variety of malignancies ​7​. Clear cell kidney cancer affects up to 60% of persons with this condition.
  • Birt-Hogg-Dubé (BHD) syndrome is an uncommon genetic disorder linked to noncancerous skin tumors, lung cysts, and a higher chance of both noncancerous and cancerous kidney tumors. Most tumors are chromophobes, oncocytomas, or hybrid tumors, which combine both.
  • Hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma (HPRCC): HPRCC is a relatively rare hereditary disease that raises the papillary renal cell carcinoma risk of type 1 papillary. HPRCC patients have a very high risk of getting multiple kidney tumors on both kidneys but no higher risk of other malignancies or illnesses.
  • Hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell carcinoma (HLRCC): HLRCC is linked to a 16 percent greater chance of getting a kind of kidney cancer called type 2 papillary or collecting duct renal cell carcinoma. Leiomyomata are skin nodules that commonly appear on the arms, legs, chest, and back. Leiomyomas, or uterine fibroids, are common in women with HLRCC. Adrenal tumours are quite rare. 
  • Succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) complex syndrome: SDH refers to a category of hereditary cancer disorders that include pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma tumors. This disease may also be associated with gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) and kidney malignancies.
  • Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) syndrome: TSC syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by skin, brain, kidney, and cardiac alterations. Angiomyolipomas of the kidney affect more than half of people with TSC. Approximately 2% of such people will get kidney cancer.
  • BAP1 tumor predisposition syndrome (BAP1 TPS): Melanoma of the skin and eye, mesothelioma, and clear cell RCC are linked to a hereditary mutation in the BRCA1-associated protein 1 (BAP1) gene.

A higher risk of kidney cancer may be linked to other hereditary disorders. Other hereditary causes of kidney cancer are still being investigated.


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