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 research is going on to try to find out more.

There are certain things that can affect the chances of developing kidney cancer. These are called risk factors. Having a risk factor does not necessarily mean you will get kidney cancer, and people without risk factors can also develop cancer.

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


Kidney cancer is more common in men than women.


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


Smoking increases the risk of developing kidney cancer. The more a person smokes, the greater their risk.

The risk goes down when a person stops smoking. After 10 years, it returns to the same as a non-smoker.

Being overweight

Studies show that being overweight (obese) increases the risk of getting kidney cancer.

High blood pressure

Having high blood pressure 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 developing kidney cancer. The risk is greatest for people who need treatment to do the work of the kidneys (dialysis).

Family history

Most people who get kidney cancers 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 (4%) are thought to be inherited.



Genetic conditions

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 (BHD) syndrome
  • tuberous sclerosis.

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

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 may also increase risk, such as those used in heavy engineering. These include:

  • cadmium
  • lead
  • asbestos
  • trichloroethylene (Tric).