Risk factors

Kidney cancer is the 10th most common occurring cancer in Canada.  It is more common in men than in women.  Kidney cancer occurs most often in people 45 years of age and older. Like many cancers, the exact causes of kidney cancer are not really known.  However, there is scientific evidence that the following factors increase your risk of developing kidney cancer.

Smoking increases your risk of developing kidney cancer. The risk increases with how much and how long you have smoked.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of kidney cancer, but we do not know exactly how being overweight or obese increases risk.  Being overweight or obese is based on your body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio.  For more information on BMI and waist-to-hip ratio, please see Health Canada’s Canadian Guidelines for Body Weight Classification in Adults.

Having high blood pressure (hypertension) increases your risk of kidney cancer. We do not know exactly how high blood pressure contributes to the increased risk.

Some genetic health conditions increase your risk of developing certain types of kidney cancer.  These include conditions such as von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome, hereditary papillary renal carcinoma (HPRC), Birt-Hogg-Dubé (BHD) syndrome and tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), where you may inherit certain faulty genes that increase cancer risk.  However, these uncommon genetic predispositions appear to account for only a small number of kidney cancer cases.  Please see our information on inherited disorders that can increase the risk of kidney cancer

People with a strong family history of kidney cancer in a first-degree relative (such as a parent, brother, sister or child) also have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer.

People with advanced kidney disease, especially those who are on dialysis for a long time, have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer.

People exposed to the chemical trichloroethylene (TCE) at work are at an increased risk of developing kidney cancer and the risk seems to increase with exposure to higher levels of TCE. TCE is a solvent that is mainly used in industries to remove grease from metal and may also be used in dry cleaning.

Some people develop kidney cancer without having any of these risk factors.  Also, having some of these risk factors does not mean you will develop kidney cancer.  Other risk factors may be linked with kidney cancer, but there is not enough evidence to show that they cause kidney cancer and more study is needed to clarify the role they may play.





World Cancer Research Fund International/American Institute for Cancer Research.  Continuous Update Project Report.  Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Kidney Cancer.  Canadian Urological Association Journal.  2015.  Available at: wcrf.org/kidney-cancer-2015.

Qayyum T, Oades G, Horgan P, et al.  The epidemiology and risk factors for renal cancer.  Current Urology. February 2013;6(4):169-74.

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