Causes and risk factors of kidney cancer

The causes of kidney cancer are unknown. Some factors can increase the risk of developing kidney cancer.

What are risk factors?

The causes of kidney cancer are unknown, But there are certain things that can affect the chances of developing kidney cancer. These are called risk factors.

Having a risk factor does not mean you will definitely get kidney cancer. And if you do not have any known risk factors, you may still develop kidney cancer.

Cancer is not infectious, and you cannot pass it on to other people.

If you are worried about kidney cancer and would like to talk to someone, we are here. You can:


Kidney cancer is more common in men than in women.


The risk of kidney cancer increases with age. Most people who get kidney cancer are aged over 60. But it can affect people younger than this.


Smoking increases the risk of kidney cancer. The more you smoke, the greater your risk.

Risk goes down when you stop smoking. After 10 years, it returns to the same risk as a non-smoker.

Being overweight

Studies show that obesity (being significantly overweight) increases the risk of kidney cancer.

High blood pressure

Having high blood pressure (hypertension) may slightly increase the risk of kidney cancer. But most people with high blood pressure do not develop kidney cancer.

Kidney disease

People with advanced kidney disease have a higher risk of kidney cancer. The risk is greatest for people who need treatment that does the work of the kidneys (dialysis).

Waste products from the blood can sometimes cause hard stones to form in the kidneys. Men with these kidney stones have a higher risk of kidney cancer.


If you have type 1 diabetes, you have a higher risk of kidney cancer – particularly if you use insulin to control the diabetes rather than tablets.

Family history

Most people who get kidney cancer do not have a family history of it. But your risk may be higher than average if a close relative has had kidney cancer.

Close relatives are your parents, brothers, sisters or children. Fewer than 1 in 20 kidney cancers (5%) are thought to be inherited.

Genetic risk

Some rare genetic conditions can increase the risk of developing kidney cancer. These include:

  • von Hippel-Lindau disease
  • hereditary papillary RCC (HPRCC)
  • Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome (BHD)
  • tuberous sclerosis
  • sickle cell disease or sickle cell trait.

Kidney cancers caused by an inherited gene change (mutation) are more likely to happen at a younger age. They may cause several tumours and can affect both kidneys.

People who have had thyroid cancer have an increased risk of kidney cancer. This may be because of genetic mutations that are linked to both cancers.

Exposure to certain materials at work

An increased risk of kidney cancer has been linked to working with blast furnaces or coke ovens in the steel and coal industries. Exposure to certain materials, such as cadmium, lead or asbestos, may also increase risk.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our kidney cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    Escudier B, et al. Renal cell carcinoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology 30: 706-720, 2019. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdz056 Published online 21 February 2019. Available from (accessed April 2021).

    European Association of Urology. Renal cell carcinoma guidelines. EAU Guidelines. Edn. presented at the EAU Annual Congress Milan 2021. ISBN 978-94-92671-13-4. Available from (accessed April 2021).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE): Nivolumab with ipilimumab for untreated advanced renal cell carcinoma. Technology appraisal guidance (TA581). Published 15 May 2019. Available from (accessed April 2021).

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Lisa Pickering, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 November 2021
Next review: 01 November 2024
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

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