Kidney Cancer Risk Factors

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You may have a higher risk of kidney cancer if any of these apply to you:

  • You smoke cigarettes
  • Are obese
  • Are male
  • Have uncontrolled high blood pressure

People who have other kinds of kidney disease also are at higher risk for kidney cancer. People with acquired cystic kidney disease (many cysts in the kidneys) are at higher risk. So are people getting long-term kidney dialysis to filter their blood.

Some people have a higher risk because of their genetics (features passed along at birth from one of their parents). Certain gene mutations can be passed on from your parents before you’re born. Hereditary conditions that can raise the risk for kidney cancer include:

  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease: This inherited syndrome can lead to the development of clear cell renal cell carcinoma (RCC), often at an early age. The condition also is associated with tumors in the brain and eye, pancreas cysts, and adrenal tumors.
  • Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome: This inherited skin disease affects the hair follicles. It’s associated with various types of RCC, such as clear cell RCC and chromophobe RCC. It’s also associated with the development of air pockets in the lungs and certain skin changes.
  • Hereditary papillary renal carcinoma: This inherited kidney cancer often affects younger people. It’s marked by papillary renal tumors. There usually are many tumors, and they often are bilateral (in both kidneys) and type 1.
  • Hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell carcinoma: This inherited syndrome raises the risk of aggressive kidney cancer (papillary RCC, type 2) and certain skin changes. In women, it can cause myomas (noncancerous fibroids) in the uterus at an early age.
  • Tuberous sclerosis: This genetic disorder can cause serious skin bumps, seizures, and cysts in the kidney, liver, and pancreas. It also is associated with RCC, and kidney tumors called angiomyolipomas.

Your doctor may ask you to get a blood test if they think you have hereditary kidney cancer. If the test shows a mutation is present, you and family members who may be at risk may get more testing, which can be coordinated by the Clinical Genetics Service at MSK. This information can be very important to setting a cancer screening schedule that right for you. This is the best way to find and treat kidney cancer early, when it’s easier to cure.

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.  

Genetic Testing & Counseling at Memorial Sloan Kettering
Memorial Sloan Kettering's Clinical Genetics Service offers hereditary cancer risk assessment, genetic counseling, and genetic testing by specially trained genetic counselors and physicians.