Kidney Cancer Causes Risk Factors

While the development of kidney cancer is related to your family history and is linked to genetics, it is also largely associated with your age, gender and general lifestyle practices.

Generally, the type of tumor a person develops as well as the location of the tumor will depend on the main cause of his cancer. For example, cases of kidney cancer that develop primarily as a result of genetics tend to be either clear cell or papillary cell forms of renal cell carcinoma.

In rare cases, another medical condition can be the primary risk factor that causes kidney cancer. For instance, Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (VHL) is a disease that causes tumors to form on the kidneys, brain, spine and a number of other organs. Similarly, tuberous sclerosis is a condition that causes cysts to form in the kidneys, pancreas and liver. These cysts put patients at a higher risk of developing renal cell carcinoma.

As a result, knowing the risk factors associated with the development of kidney cancer is important to helping you avoid putting yourself at a greater risk of developing this condition. In this section, we will outline and examine the various causes of kidney cancer.

Kidney Cancer and Aging

It’s no surprise that as we get older our bodies start to slowly break down from years of wear and use. Along with the malfunctioning or impaired ability to use certain organs, we also are at risk of developing a number of conditions that can range from mild to potentially life-threatening. Among these more serious conditions that we are more likely to develop as we age is kidney cancer.

While some cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed in people under 40 years old, especially Wilms’ tumor (a form of renal cell carcinoma that generally affects children under 5), most cases of kidney cancer affect people who are over 50 years old.

Kidney Cancer and Smoking

Along with contributing to a number of other harmful medical conditions, smoking is one of the leading causes of the development of kidney cancer. In fact, while about 25 percent of cases of kidney cancer in women are linked to smoking, approximately 30 percent of cases in men are related to smoking.

The chemicals in cigarettes destroy the cells of the kidneys (and other organs, as well), which can set off predisposed genes in the kidney cells to reproduce cancerous cells.

Similarly, breathing in other harsh chemicals can also contribute to the development of kidney cancer. For example, both asbestos and cadmium (a toxic, bluish-white metal) have been linked to kidney cancer. Learn more about the relationship between kidney cancer and smoking.

Kidney Cancer and Obesity

Like aging, obesity causes a number of medical problems, including kidney cancer. Obesity is medically defined as a medical condition in which a person is 20 percent larger than his ideal body weight, which is based on a person’s age, height and gender. Those who are obese are so overweight that they put excessive strain on their organs, which have to work strenuously just to maintain normal bodily functions.

Because the kidneys are in charge of filtering the blood and eliminating waste products from the items we consume, those who consume more, namely the obese, are straining their kidneys. Over time, repeated strain can cause the kidneys to start producing cancerous cells, leading to the development of renal cell carcinoma. The primary cause of this is obesity.


Cornell Department of Urology (2007). Kidney Cancer Causes and Risk Factors. Retrieved July 8, 2007, from the Cornell Physicians Web site: