Kidney cancer causes and risk factors

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on May 20, 2022.

Each year, more than 81,610 people in the United States are diagnosed with kidney cancer. No one knows if or when the disease will develop, but understanding the risk factors for kidney cancer may help people take preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of developing the disease.

What causes kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer is caused when DNA in cells in one or both kidneys mutate, which may lead to uncontrolled cell division and growth. While the exact cause of a person’s kidney cancer may not be known, certain risk factors are strongly linked to the disease, including smoking tobacco and obesity. Also, people with certain hereditary cancer syndromes or a family history of kidney cancer have a high risk of developing the disease.

Kidney cancer risk factors

General and lifestyle risk factors

Age: The risk of developing kidney cancer increases with age. Kidney cancer is uncommon in people under age 45, with an average age of 64 at diagnosis.
Dialysis: People who receive long-term dialysis, which enables those without functioning kidneys to filter their blood through a machine, are more likely to develop kidney cancer.
Gender: Men are twice as likely to develop kidney cancer as women.
High blood pressure: People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop kidney cancer.
Obesity: Excess weight, especially when caused by a high-fat diet, can increase a person’s kidney cancer risks.
Occupational exposure: Exposure to asbestos and/or cadmium (a type of metal used in the production of batteries, plastics, and other industrial processes) may increase the risk of developing kidney cancer.
Smoking tobacco: The use of cigarettes, pipes and cigars can contribute to the development of kidney cancer.

Is kidney cancer hereditary?

Kidney cancer risk factors increase for those who have a family history of the disease and those with the following inherited genetic conditions:

Learn about genetic testing

Next topic: What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?

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