Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer

There are several risk factors associated with kidney cancer.

Smoking & Kidney Cancer Risk

There is strong evidence that cigarette, pipe, and cigar smoking doubles a person's risk for developing renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Researchers estimate that 25 to 30 percent of all renal cell cancers are directly attributable to smoking.

Overuse of Painkillers & Kidney Cancer Risk

Medications containing phenacetin, which were once commonly used over-the-counter painkillers, have been linked to RCC, typically in patients who used them to excess. While these drugs were removed from U.S. markets more than 20 years ago, older Americans who used them may be at risk for RCC.

Chemical Exposure & Kidney Cancer Risk

Studies have shown that exposure to certain substances increases the risk of RCC. Asbestos, once commonly used as an insulating material, and cadmium, formerly an ingredient in certain colored inks and paints, have been linked to kidney cancer. People who may have come into contact with these substances, such as construction and shipyard workers, painters and printers, may have an increased risk for RCC.

Genetics & Kidney Cancer Risk

People with a family history of kidney cancer are at increased risk for RCC. It is suspected that inherited genetic mutations may be the cause, perhaps triggered by damage to the DNA that forms genes; cigarette smoke, for example, is known to contain chemicals that can damage the genes of kidney cells.

Other genetic mutations may cause two rare forms of kidney cancer. Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome is a disease that causes multiple tumors of the brain, spine, eyes, adrenal glands, pancreas, inner ear, testicles, and kidneys. Tuberous sclerosis is a disease characterized by lesions on the skin and in the central nervous system, tumor growth, and seizures.

Other Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer

Additional risk factors for kidney cancer include the following:

  • Age—RCC occurs most frequently in adults 50–70 years old.
  • Diet and weight—High-fat diet and obesity may increase the risk for RCC.
  • Extended dialysis—Patients treated with long-term dialysis may develop cysts in their kidneys, a risk factor for RCC.
  • Estrogen—Test animals have developed RCC when given estrogens.
  • Gender—Men are twice as likely as women to develop RCC.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 22 Sep 2015