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West Hills Hospital & Medical Center

Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer

A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop kidney cancer with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing a disease. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

In general, kidney cancer is more common in people after age 50. The incidence of kidney cancer in men is nearly double that of women.

Other factors that may increase your chance of kidney cancer include:


Certain changes in DNA increase the chance of specific cancers. Some DNA changes are inherited from the parent. Inherited conditions that are also associated with a high risk of kidney cancer include:

  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease —Causes tumors or cysts in different parts of the body, including the kidneys. Kidney cancer may also develop at a younger age.
  • Hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma—A specific type of cancer that forms on the inside lining of the kidney's filtering tubes.
  • Hereditary leiomyomatosis renal cell carcinoma—Linked to the development of uterine fibroids (benign tumors found in the wall of the uterus) in women. This syndrome increased the risk of papillary renal cell carcinoma.
  • Birt-Hogg-Dube—Linked to the development of benign skin tumors. Risk is increased for different types of kidney and other cancers.
  • Familial renal cancer—Linked to the development of head and neck, and adrenal gland tumors. This syndrome is associated with cancer in both kidneys before age 40.
  • Hereditary renal oncocytoma—Increases the risk of the development of an oncocytoma. Almost all oncocytomas are benign.

Family History

A strong family history of kidney cancer may increase the chance of developing this cancer. The risk is greatest if a sibling has kidney cancer.

Lifestyle Factors

Kidney cancer is strongly associated with lifestyle factors. The following factors may increase your risk of developing kidney cancer:

  • Smoking—Tobacco use more than doubles the risk of kidney cancer and is considered a main cause. Smoke and carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) enter the bloodstream after being inhaled. These agents affect every cell in the body, including the kidneys. The kidneys filter these agents from the blood. Long-term exposure to high concentrations of chemicals cause irritation and damage, increasing the chance of cancer cell development.
  • Occupational exposure—Certain jobs may expose you to asbestos, organic solvents, or the metal cadium. Chemicals that are inhaled or absorbed through the skin may be filtered through the kidneys, causing irritation and damage.

Medical Conditions and Medications

Medical treatments and conditions that may have an increase in the risk of kidney cancer include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood pressure medication called diuretics—It is not clear if the high blood pressure itself, medication itself, or the combination of them causes the increased risk.
  • Phenacentin—A pain medication.
  • Advanced kidney diseases that require dialysis.

Revision Information

  • General information about renal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated July 7, 2015. Accessed December 22, 2015.

  • Kidney cancer. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: Accessed December 22, 2015.

  • Kidney cancer (adult)—renal cell carcinoma. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed December 22, 2015.

  • Pischon, T, Lahmann, PH, Boeing H, et al. Body size and risk of renal cell carcinoma in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Int J Cancer. 2006;118(3):728-738.

  • Renal cell carcinoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated December 21, 2015. Accessed December 22, 2015.

  • Renal cell carcinoma (adenocarcinoma of the kidneys). Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated November 2013. Accessed December 22, 2015.