Risk factors and causes of kidney cancer

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 doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get kidney cancer.


The risk of kidney cancer increases with age. Most people who get kidney cancer are over 60.


The longer a person smokes for and the more they smoke, the greater their risk of getting kidney cancer. Risk goes down when a person stops smoking.

Being overweight

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

Medical conditions

Having high blood pressure may slightly increase the risk of kidney cancer. But most people with high blood pressure don’t develop kidney cancer.

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 kidney cancers aren’t inherited. But, your risk may be higher than average if a parent, brother, sister or child of yours has had kidney cancer.

Genetic risk

Some rare genetic conditions can increase the risk of developing kidney cancer. These include von Hippel-Lindau disease, hereditary papillary RCC (HPRCC) and Birt-Hogg-Dube (BHD) syndrome.

Kidney cancers caused by an inherited gene change are more likely to happen at a younger age. They may cause several tumours, and 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. These include cadmium, lead, asbestos and trichloroethylene (Tric), which are used in heavy engineering.

Kidney cancer is not infectious and you can’t pass it on to other people.