What Causes Kidney Cancer?

Kidney cancer develops most often in people over the age of 60, and is more common in cisgender men than in women, and in African American, Native American and Alaskan Native populations. An exact cause of the disease remains unknown, however people with the following risk factors are more likely than others to develop kidney cancer:

  • Smoking. Smokers are twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop kidney cancer.
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Advanced kidney disease. People with advanced kidney disease that requires long-term dialysis have increased risk for developing kidney cancer.
  • Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome and other hereditary kidney cancer genes. VHL is the most common cause of hereditary kidney cancer. This rare genetic disease is caused by changes in the VHL gene that can be inherited. An abnormal VHL gene can lead to multiple tumors or cysts of the eye, brain, pancreas, adrenal gland, kidney and other parts of the body. If you or a relative have a known VHL gene mutation, talk to your doctor about tests you should have for early detection of kidney cancer and other cancers.
  • Family history. Your risk of kidney cancer is increased if you have a relative diagnosed with kidney cancer. People with a family history of renal cell cancer are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop the disease. If you have kidney cancer and also a family member with kidney cancer, or if your kidney cancer diagnosis occurs by age 46 or younger, you may want to pursue genetic screening for hereditary kidney cancer syndromes (such as VHL, HLRCC, HPRCC, BHD and others) to better assess your kidney cancer risk.
  • Occupations that involve exposure to certain chemicals or substances in the workplace. These include coke oven workers in the iron and steel industries and exposure to asbestos or cadmium on the job.
  • Gender. Those assigned male at birth are more likely than women to be diagnosed with kidney cancer.

What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?