There is no way to fully prevent kidney cancer, but a person may lower their risk through strategies such as maintaining a moderate weight and quitting smoking, if applicable.

Kidney cancer, or renal cancer, is one of the most common cancers affecting adults in the United States and the 14th most common cancer worldwide.

Several factors can affect a person’s risk of developing kidney cancer. People can prevent or modify some of these factors but not others. Although there is no way to fully prevent kidney cancer, avoiding preventable risk factors may help reduce a person’s chance of getting the disease.

This article explores different steps a person can take to prevent kidney cancer and its risk factors.

Female exercising outside and person receiving a kidney scanShare on Pinterest
Design by MNT; Photography by Rob and Julia Campbell/Stocksy & stefanamer/Getty Images

Healthcare professionals do not know the exact cause of kidney cancer, but certain factors may increase a person’s chance of developing the disease. A person can modify some of these factors but not all of them.

Below are non-preventable risk factors of kidney cancer:

  • Sex: Kidney cancer is two times more common in males than in females.
  • Ethnicity: African Americans, American Indians, and Alaska Natives have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer.
  • Age: People most commonly receive a kidney cancer diagnosis between ages 65 and 74. This type of cancer is rare in people under age 45.
  • Family history: Individuals who have parents, children, or siblings with kidney cancer may have a higher risk of developing the disease.
  • Inherited or genetic diseases: Some people inherit genes that can increase their risk of developing rare conditions that have a link with types of kidney cancer. These conditions include Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, and familial renal cancer.
  • Kidney disease: Some research suggests that people who undergo long-term dialysis for end stage kidney disease have a 1.3-fold increased risk of developing kidney cancer, while other sources suggest as much as a fivefold increased risk. Kidney transplant recipients taking immunosuppressant medications are also at risk of developing kidney cancer.

Learn more about the symptoms of kidney cancer in males.

The following are changeable risk factors that may raise the risk of developing kidney cancer:

Smoking tobacco significantly increases the risk that kidney cancer may occur and lead to death. If a person smokes, stopping smoking can reduce their risk of developing kidney cancer and dying from it.

Smoking is responsible for 6% of kidney cancer deaths in developed countries. Compared with people who have never smoked, those who currently smoke have a 30% increased risk of the disease and former smokers have a 15% increased risk.

Learn more about why smoking is bad for you.

According to a 2015 study, high body mass index (BMI) accounts for 26% of kidney cancer cases worldwide. The World Health Organization reports that obesity may surpass smoking as the primary risk factor for preventable cancers.

Learn more about measuring BMI for different ages.

A BMI score of 25 or above increases a person’s chance of developing kidney cancer, while a BMI of 30 or higher can pose a particularly high risk.

Learn more about how to calculate your BMI.

Obesity may cause changes in certain hormones that can lead to kidney cancer. Experts think increased levels of estrogen can promote cancer growth. Being overweight can also affect insulin, which can cause blood sugar levels to rise and damage the kidneys.

If necessary, making efforts to reach or maintain a moderate weight — such as consuming a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and staying physically active — can help reduce the risk of kidney cancer.

A 2016 study suggests that individuals who engage in more physical activity in their leisure time have a reduced risk of cancer, including kidney cancer.

Learn more about the benefits of healthy eating.

There is also a positive association between high blood pressure (hypertension) and kidney cancer. The risk does not decrease even if a person takes medicines to treat the condition.

Healthcare professionals do not know for certain whether the condition or the medication is responsible for the increased risk.

Regular physical activity or exercise can help reduce high blood pressure, body weight, and blood sugar levels. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 150–300 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking, or 75–150 minutes of vigorous activity, such as running, each week.

Learn more about ways to lower your blood pressure.

Studies show a strong relationship between kidney injury and kidney tumors.

People with diabetes should aim to manage their blood sugar. High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, leading to kidney disease.

Research from 2019 suggests that prolonged use of medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also lead to kidney damage.

Exposure to certain toxins such as these may increase a person’s risk of kidney cancer:

  • asbestos
  • cadmium
  • trichloroethylene

Cadmium is also present in tobacco smoke, batteries, and welding and soldering materials.

A person should inform a healthcare professional if they have a family history of kidney cancer. A healthcare professional may follow up with monitoring and regular imaging tests to check for kidney tumors.

Genetic testing can also help determine whether a person or a family has a genetic mutation that causes a condition with a connection to a particular kidney cancer. This can help a healthcare professional develop the appropriate cancer screening plan and determine the best treatment options.

Learn more about whether people can inherit kidney cancer.

Kidney cancer does not usually cause symptoms in its early stages. Individuals with an average to high risk of kidney cancer should ask a healthcare professional about tests to determine whether they have early signs of the disease.

A person who experiences the following symptoms should visit a healthcare professional promptly for an assessment:

There is no complete way to prevent kidney cancer, but awareness of the risk factors may reduce a person’s chances of developing the disease.

Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, managing high blood pressure, minimizing workplace exposure to chemicals, and preventing kidney damage can help lower the risk of kidney cancer.

A person with an increased risk of kidney cancer should consult a healthcare professional for monitoring and testing to ensure early detection. Individuals who experience kidney cancer symptoms should contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible.