Kidney Cancer Risk Factors & Screening


Kidney cancer is less common in the United States than many other cancers. Regular health and wellness visits to your doctor don’t usually include screening programs or examinations for this illness.

To stay healthy and lessen the risk for kidney cancer, we recommend that you:

  • Quit using tobacco.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid becoming overweight.
  • Follow a low-fat diet.

Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer

Being exposed to asbestos or cadmium (a metal that can raise the cancer-causing effect of smoking) can increase your risk. So can receiving kidney dialysis for long periods of time. (A dialysis machine filters the blood of a person without functioning kidneys.)

Some people are born with an increased chance of developing kidney problems, including cancer.

Experts in our Clinical Genetics Service can help you figure out if you’re at increased risk for kidney disease because of a disease that’s been passed down from your parents.  

Inherited diseases that can increase the risk for kidney cancer include:

  • von Hippel-Lindau disease, a syndrome caused by a genetic mutation that leads to multiple kidney tumors, often at an early age. This condition is also associated with tumors in the brain and eye, pancreas cysts, and adrenal tumors.
  • Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome, an inherited skin disease that affects the hair follicles. It is associated with kidney tumors and the development of air pockets in the lungs
  • hereditary papillary renal carcinoma, an inherited form of kidney cancer often affecting younger patients. It is marked by papillary renal tumors, which are typically multiple and bilateral (in both kidneys).
  • hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell carcinoma, an extremely rare inherited genetic mutation that increases your risk for aggressive kidney cancer
  • tuberous sclerosis, a genetic disorder characterized by severe skin bumps, seizures, mental retardation, and kidney, liver, and pancreas cysts

If you have a hereditary form of kidney cancer, we may be able to offer you participation in screening studies to check family members who may also be at risk. Having this kind of information can be very important to staying healthy and getting successful treatment.