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7 Causes of Renal Cell Carcinoma: Who’s at Risk?

Medically reviewed by Steven Kim, MD on December 14, 2015Written by Robin Madell on February 19, 2014
elderly man with rcc

Of all the types of kidney cancer that adults can develop, renal cell carcinoma (RCC) occurs most often. It accounts for about 90 percent of diagnosed kidney cancers.

While the exact cause of RCC is unknown, there are known risk factors that may increase your chance of developing kidney cancer. Keep reading to find out about the seven major risk factors.

1. Your Age

People have a greater chance of developing RCC as they get older.

2. Your Gender

Males have double the chance of having RCC compared to females.

3. Your Genes

Genetics can play a role in developing RCC. A few rare inherited conditions, such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease and hereditary (or familial) papillary RCC, put you at higher risk for developing RCC.

Von Hippel-Lindau causes tumors in more than one part of your body. Hereditary papillary RCC is linked to changes in certain genes.

4. Your Family History

Even if you don’t have any of the inherited conditions that have been shown to cause RCC, your family history may be a risk factor for the disease.

If someone in your family is known to have had RCC, your chances for developing kidney cancer could be up to four times greater. This risk has been proven to be particularly strong if your sibling has the condition.

5. You Smoke

According to the Mayo Clinic, smokers have a greater chance of having kidney cancer than those who don’t smoke. However if you quit smoking, your risk of developing the condition can be greatly reduced.

6. You’re Overweight

Obesity is a factor that can lead to abnormal hormone changes. These changes ultimately put obese people at a higher risk for RCC than those of normal weight.

Being extremely overweight (morbidly obese) may account for around 20 percent of RCC cases.

7. You Have High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is also a risk factor for kidney cancer. When you have high blood pressure, you have a greater chance of developing RCC.   

One unknown factor about this risk factor relates to high blood pressure medicine. Specific high blood pressure medications may be linked to increased risk for RCC. However, it’s uncertain whether the increased risk is really because of the medicine or because of having hypertension. Some researchers believe that the combination of both factors leads to a heightened risk.


While having one or more risk factors for kidney disease may increase your chances of developing the condition, it doesn’t mean that you will automatically develop RCC. 

Still, it’s always good to make an appointment with your doctor to talk about your risks and to make the appropriate lifestyle changes to help decrease your risk.

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