A to Z Health Guide

Kidney Cancer: Who is at risk?

Who is at risk for kidney cancer?

It is not completely clear what causes kidney cells to change and become cancerous, but certain risk factors are linked to the disease. A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors can be changed  (smoking, as an example); but others cannot be changed (your gender, race, or family history). Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean you will get cancer, but it may increase your risk.

Some possible risk factors are:

  • Smoking.
  • Being overweight (obese). Being overweight may increase your risk for kidney cancer.  However, these tumors are more likely to be in the early stages and cured by surgery.
  • High blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage your kidneys and is associated with kidney cancer.
  • Gender.  The disease is seen about twice as often in men than in women.
  • Race. Black people have a slightly higher rate of kidney cancer than white people.
  • Having advanced chronic kidney disease (CKD) that requires dialysis treatment.
  • Family history. Brothers and sisters of people with kidney cancer have a much higher chance of getting the disease. This may be due to shared genes, or something you were exposed to in the environment, or both.
  • Long-term use of a pain-relieving drug called phenacetin. (This drug was banned in the United States during the early 1980s).
  • Certain rare genetic diseases, such as von Hippel-Lindau disease, Birt Hogge Dube syndrome, and others. People with these conditions have a much higher risk of getting kidney cancer.
  • Contact over many years with asbestos or cadmium (a metal that can raise the cancer-causing effect of smoking).

A person may be able to lower the risk of kidney cancer by avoiding those risk factors that can be controlled. For example, stopping smoking may lower the risk, and controlling body weight and high blood pressure may help as well. Avoiding contact with harmful chemicals is also important.

What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?

In the early stages, most people do not have signs or symptoms. In fact, less than 30% of kidney cancers are found due to having symptoms.  However, as the tumor grows, you may have:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain in the sides of the mid-back (the flank)
  • A lump or mass in the area of the back near the kidneys
  • Weight loss, night sweats, or unexplained fever

See also:

What is Kidney Cancer?

How is Kidney Cancer Found?

Treatments for Kidney Cancer

Talking with Your Healthcare Professional

Date Reviewed: 
November 17, 2016

The information shared on our websites is information developed solely from internal experts on the subject matter, including medical advisory boards, who have developed guidelines for our patient content. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. No one associated with the National Kidney Foundation will answer medical questions via e-mail. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.