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Kidney cancer risk factors

Each year, more than 65,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with kidney cancer. No one knows if or when the disease will develop, but understanding the risk factors for kidney cancer may help you take preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of developing the disease.

What causes kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer is caused when DNA in cells in one or both kidneys mutate, which may lead to uncontrolled cell division and growth. While the exact cause of a person’s kidney cancer may not be known, certain risk factors are strongly linked to the disease, including smoking tobacco and obesity. Also, people with certain hereditary cancer syndromes or a family history of kidney cancer have a high risk of developing the disease.

Known risk factors for kidney cancer include:

Age: The risk of developing kidney cancer increases with age. Kidney cancer is uncommon in people under age 45, with an average age of 64 at diagnosis.

Gender: Men are twice as likely to develop kidney cancer as women. 

Obesity: Excess weight, especially when caused by a high-fat diet, can increase a person’s kidney cancer risks.

High blood pressure: People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop kidney cancer.

Dialysis: People who receive long-term dialysis, which enables those without functioning kidneys to filter their blood through a machine, are more likely to develop kidney cancer.


Family history or inherited genetic syndromes: Kidney cancer risk factors increase for those who have a family history of the disease and those with the following inherited genetic conditions:

  • Von hippel-lindau disease, caused by a genetic mutation that causes tumors in the kidney 
  • Hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, a hereditary form of kidney cancer that is usually seen in both kidneys 
  • Birt-hogg-dube syndrome, a skin disease that affects the hair follicles, which is associated with kidney tumors and air pockets in the lungs 
  • Hereditary renal oncocytoma, a type of kidney tumor that has a low risk of being malignant 
  • Hereditary leiomyoma renal cell carcinoma, a rare gene mutation that causes bumps on the skin, and in women, may cause large fibroids of the uterus

Learn more about genetic testing


Smoking tobacco: The use of cigarettes, pipes and cigars can contribute to the likelihood of developing kidney cancer.

Occupational exposure: Exposure to asbestos and/or cadmium (a type of metal used in the production of batteries, plastics, and other industrial processes) may increase the risk of developing kidney cancer.

Learn more about treatments for kidney cancer

Next topic: What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?

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