Kidney (renal) cancer has several modifiable risk factors. Diet and lifestyle changes can help address these factors and lower your risk. These are especially important if you have other risk factors you can’t control.

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Kidney cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States. Experts expect about 81,800 new kidney cancer diagnoses in the United States in 2023. It’s also the 14th most common cancer worldwide.

Kidney cancer happens when cells in your kidneys change and grow abnormally. We aren’t sure what causes these cells to change, but several factors are known to increase your risk.

Some of these risk factors are in your control. Specific lifestyle changes can lower your risk of developing kidney cancer. And if you’ve had kidney cancer in the past, the changes may also reduce the chances of cancer returning.

Language matters

We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms historically used to gender people. But your gender identity may not align with how your body responds to this disease. Your doctor can better help you understand how your specific circumstances will translate into risk factors, diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment.

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There are many known risk factors for kidney cancer — some within your control and others not.

Risk factors you can’t control include:

Risk factors within your control include:

  • Smoking: Tobacco smoking increases your risk of kidney cancer. The risk increases the more you smoke.
  • Obesity: Obesity can cause changes in some hormones that can lead to kidney cancer.
  • High blood pressure: Research shows a link between high blood pressure (hypertension) and an increased risk of kidney cancer. The higher your blood pressure, the higher the risk.
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD): Having advanced CKD increases your risk of kidney cancer, especially if you need dialysis.
  • Exposure to chemicals: Your risk is higher if you’re exposed to chemicals such as trichloroethylene, cadmium, or asbestos at work or home.

Let’s look at steps you can take to control these risk factors.

Research suggests that current smokers have a 39% higher risk of kidney cancer than those who’ve never smoked. Even people who used to smoke but quit have a 20% higher risk than those who’ve never smoked.

Your risk also increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke each day.

If you smoke, quitting will help decrease your risk of kidney cancer. If you already have kidney cancer, quitting can also improve your outlook.

Learn more about how to quit smoking.

Studies link eating more fruits and vegetables to lowering your risk of kidney cancer. Experts think the carotenoids in fruits and vegetables help offer this protection. The American Cancer Society recommends eating whole fruits in a variety of colors to lower your risk.

Research also suggests that total dietary fiber intake, especially fiber from vegetables and legumes, can reduce your risk of kidney cancer later in life.

Discover more high fiber foods.

Can coffee help reduce your risk of kidney cancer?

Research on whether coffee can reduce the risk of kidney cancer is mixed. A recent review found no relationship between coffee consumption and the risk of kidney cancer. But another recent study reported a 20% reduced risk of kidney cancer in people who drank 2 or more cups of coffee daily.

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High blood pressure doesn’t usually cause symptoms. You could have it without knowing it. Over time, high blood pressure can damage your arteries, especially those in the kidneys and eyes.

Your doctor may prescribe medications to lower your blood pressure if it’s too high. There are also lifestyle changes that can help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.

Healthcare professionals often recommend the DASH diet for people with high blood pressure. The diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. It also favors foods low in sodium and high in potassium.

Learn more about ways to lower your blood pressure.

Doctors define obesity in adults as having a BMI of 30 or more. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 42% of people in the United States age 20 and older have obesity.

According to 2018 research, the risk of developing kidney cancer increases as BMI increases. To lower your risk, maintain a moderate weight.

If losing weight is essential to your health, your primary care physician can refer you to a weight specialist or a team of specialists, including a dietitian, nutritionist, or therapist.

Losing weight will involve committing to some lifestyle changes. You may have to change your diet to include more fresh fruits and vegetables and limit processed foods. You may also need to incorporate more physical activity into your daily life.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend medication or weight loss surgery.

If you often come into contact with chemicals at your job, make sure to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), like:

  • gloves
  • masks
  • respirators

Always wash contaminated work clothes separately from the rest of your clothing.

Doctors don’t regularly screen for kidney cancer in people who are not at risk. But if your risk is higher, you may want to ask your doctor about screening tests for high blood pressure and kidney function.

If your genetic condition increases your risk of kidney cancer, your doctor might recommend regular imaging tests to look for tumors. Such tests may include:

Kidney cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms in the early stages. Screening tests can help your doctor detect cancer earlier when it’s more treatable.

Though some risk factors for kidney cancer are out of your control, there are many steps you can take to reduce your risk. Dietary and lifestyle changes can work together to control several risk factors, like obesity and high blood pressure.

If you have kidney disease or a family history of kidney cancer, consider meeting with your doctor to discuss regular screenings for kidney cancer.