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Kidney Cancer Inherited Risk

Factors that increase risk

  • Gender. Men are two times more likely to develop kidney cancer than women. It is believed some of this increased risk is explained by the fact that men are more likely than women to be smokers and to be exposed to certain chemicals in their occupation.
  • Age. Most people who are diagnosed with kidney cancer are over age 50. The average age of diagnosis of kidney cancer in the U.S. is 64. Unlike some other cancers, it is very uncommon to see kidney cancer in people under the age of 45.
  • Smoking. The more a person smokes, the greater the risk a person has of developing renal cell carcinoma (RCC), which is a type of kidney cancer. A person still has an increased risk of RCC once they have stopped smoking, and it takes many years to reach the risk level of a person who has never smoked.
  • Family History. Having a family history of kidney cancer increases a person's risk, especially if a person has sibling(s) with kidney cancer. This risk may be explained by shared genes, shared environment, or both.
  • Genetic Changes. Kidney cancer is sometimes caused by inherited gene changes. These gene changes are rare in the general population. It is believed that there are additional genes that have yet to be identified that can lead to an inherited kidney cancer risk.
  • Race. African Americans have a slightly higher rate of kidney cancer when compared to people of other ancestries. The reasons behind this higher rate are currently unknown.
  • High Blood Pressure. There is an increased risk of kidney cancer in people with high blood pressure. It is unclear if this risk is elevated due to the high blood pressure alone or due to the medication that is used to treat high blood pressure.
  • Obesity. People who are obese have an increased risk of developing kidney cancer. It is believed that obesity may lead to hormonal changes in a person that may increase the risk of a person developing kidney cancer.
  • Chemical exposure. Some studies have shown that exposure to cadmium, certain herbicides, and trichloroethylene may lead to an increased risk of kidney cancer.
  • Advanced kidney disease. People with advanced kidney disease who require dialysis have an increased risk of developing kidney cancer.

Factors that decrease risk

  • Quitting cigarette smoking. Many cases of kidney cancer are believed to be caused by cigarette smoking. Quitting smoking can reduce a person's risk of kidney cancer greatly, and the risk continues to decrease each year a person has been smoke-free.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Obesity and high blood pressure are risk factors for kidney cancer. Eating a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and exercising can help lower a person's blood pressure and weight, which reduces the overall chance of developing kidney cancer.
  • Avoid chemical exposures. Studies have shown that cadmium and organic solvents may increase a person's risk for developing kidney cancer. Avoiding these substances may reduce a person's overall risk. If a person works around hazardous chemicals, it is important to practice safety procedures to avoid accidental exposures.

Inherited kidney cancer clues

About 5-8 percent of cases of renal cell carcinoma, which is a type of kidney cancer, are due to an inherited gene change. Some clues of an inherited kidney cancer pattern are:

  • Two or more family members with kidney cancer
  • Kidney cancer diagnosed under the age of 50
  • Bilaterality (both kidneys affected) or multifocality (multiple tumors in one or both kidneys) kidney tumors
  • Various noncancerous skin findings in addition to kidney cancer in an individual, including skin changes such as fibrofolliculomas, angiofibromas, and skin tags. Your doctor can help you understand if you have these skin findings
  • A history of kidney cancer, along with a personal history of uterine fibroids or other tumors of the brain, pancreas, heart, eye, inner ear, adrenal gland or parathyroid gland
  • A history of kidney cancer and pneumothorax (collapsed lung) or pulmonary cysts in the family