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Kidney Cancer: Risk Factors

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.

Things you should know about risk factors for cancer:

  • Risk factors can increase a person's risk, but they do not necessarily cause the disease. 

  • Some people with 1 or more risk factors never develop cancer. Other people can develop cancer and have no risk factors.

  • Some risk factors are very well known. But there is ongoing research about risk factors for many types of cancer.

Some risk factors, such as family history, may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change. Knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that might lower your risk. For example, if an unhealthy diet is a risk factor, you may choose to eat healthy foods. If excess weight is a risk factor, your health care provider may check your weight or help you lose weight.

Who is at risk for kidney cancer?

Risk factors for kidney cancer include:

  • Age. Most kidney cancers occur in people who are 55 and older. Children and young adults rarely get this disease.

  • Sex. Men are more likely than women to develop kidney cancer. This may be due to the fact that men are more likely to smoke and be exposed to cancer-causing chemicals while at work.

  • Race. African-Americans are at a slightly higher risk for kidney cancer.

  • Smoking. The longer you have smoked, the greater your chance of kidney cancer.

  • Obesity. People who are very overweight are more likely to get kidney cancer than those at a healthy weight.

  • Contact with chemicals. Contact with certain substances puts you at higher risk for kidney cancer. This includes chemicals such as asbestos, cadmium, herbicides, benzene, and organic solvents.

  • High blood pressure. People with high blood pressure have a higher risk for kidney cancer. It is not known if the risk is due to the condition, the medicines used to treat it, or both.

  • Advanced kidney disease. This puts you at a higher risk for kidney cancer. People getting dialysis are at an even higher risk.

  • Certain inherited conditions. People who have von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease are at higher risk for kidney cancer. Other conditions linked to kidney cancer include Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, and hereditary leiomyomatosis.

  • Family history of kidney cancer. People with a family history of kidney cancer have a higher chance of having the disease. This risk is highest in brothers or sisters of those with the cancer.

What are your risk factors?

Talk with your health care provider about your risk factors for kidney cancer. If you have a family history of kidney cancer or other disorders associated with the disease, you may want to consider genetic testing and kidney cancer screening.

If genetic tests show a risk for kidney cancer, your health care provider may advise you get screened often for kidney cancer. There are no standard guidelines for how often you should be screened if you are at increased risk. Your health care provider will advise a screening schedule based on your overall health and risk factors.

Tests to look for tumors in the kidneys include:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. This test uses a series of X-rays to create a picture of organs in the body.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. This test uses strong magnets and a computer to create images of the inside of the body. 

  • Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to and a computer to create images of the inside of the body.

Online Medical Reviewer: Knoble, Jeanna, MD [nM]
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 3/7/2015
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.