Kidney Cancer Risk Factors

Kidney Cancer Risk Factors


A risk factor is anything that raises your chances of getting a disease, such as cancer. You may have a higher risk for getting kidney cancer if you:

  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Are obese
  • Are male
  • Have high blood pressure that’s not under control

You may also be at higher risk for kidney cancer if you have:

  • Another kind of kidney disease
  • Acquired cystic kidney disease (many cysts in the kidneys) 
  • Had kidney dialysis to filter your blood for a long time

Some people have a higher risk because of their genetics. Certain gene changes (mutations or variants) can be passed on from your parents. These genes are inherited. 

Hereditary conditions that can raise your 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. It’s also linked to 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 linked to some  types of RCC, such as clear cell RCC and chromophobe RCC. It’s also linked to 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.  MSK’s Clinical Genetics Service can help you get tested.

Information from genetic testing can be very important for making a cancer screening schedule that’s 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 learn if you’re at higher risk for kidney disease because of your genetic background.  

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.

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