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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 one 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 healthcare 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. The risk increases with age, but this cancer can happen at any age. It can also affect children and young adults.

  • Sex. Men are more likely than women to develop kidney cancer. This may be because 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 for kidney cancer.

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

  • Medicines. Kidney cancer has been linked to using certain medicines for a long time. These medicines include water pills (diuretics) and over-the-counter pain medicines.

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

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

  • Advanced or chronic 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 healthcare provider about your risk factors for kidney cancer. If you have a family history of kidney cancer or other disorders linked with the disease, you may want to consider genetic testing and kidney cancer screening.

If genetic tests show a risk for kidney cancer, your healthcare 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 healthcare provider will advise a screening schedule based on your overall health and risk factors.

Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
© 2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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