The causes of kidney cancer are unknown. Some factors can increase the risk of developing kidney cancer.
There are certain things that can affect the chances of developing cancer of the ureter or renal pelvis. These are called risk factors. Having a risk factor does not necessarily mean you will get ureter or renal pelvis cancer, and people without risk factors can also develop cancer.
An increased risk of cancer of the ureter and renal pelvis has been linked to working with certain chemicals. These include industrial dyes, plastics, coal, tar and asphalt.
People who have kidney damage from long-term use of certain painkillers may have a higher risk of developing cancer in the renal pelvis. This risk is highest in people who were overexposed to painkillers containing phenacetin. These painkillers are no longer sold. But phenacetin may be added to some illegal recreational drugs such as cocaine, so regular users could still be at risk.
Some people in Balkan countries can be affected by a form of kidney damage called Balkan nephropathy. This increases the risk of renal pelvis cancer. A rare condition called Lynch syndrome also increases the risk of developing cancer of the ureter and renal pelvis. People with this condition usually have several relatives on the same side of the family who have developed cancers, such as bowel and womb cancers, at an early age.