What Causes Kidney Cancer?


Kidney cancer begins as a result of various mutations in cells in the kidney. The exact cause of the Kidney Cancer and these mutations is not known.

With mutations, the cells begin to divide uncontrollably and lose their functions and become harmful to body.

The most common kidney cancer in adults is the Renal Cell Carcinoma. This tumor accounts for approximately 90% of kidney cancer cases. However, in adults, other subtypes can also be seen in the kidney.

In case of young children, the most common cancer developing in the kidney is usually Willms’ tumor.

Currently, the exact cause of kidney cancer has not been found yet. There some studies in the literature that says kidney cancer develops as a result of some mutations in several genes. These mutations may be acquired or may be inherited.

There some studies in the literature that says kidney cancer develops as a result of some mutations in several genes.

1. Cause of the Kidney Cancer

Like many cancers, kidney cancer develops as a result of chance events. Mutations in individual cells become a trigger of larger events over time and cause disordered cell growth.

The mutations that cause kidney cancer can be analyzed under two main titles as acquired and inherited.

Acquired mutations refer to the mutations that a human develops during his / her life, while inherited mutations refer to the human being born with mutations that can cause kidney cancer in their genes.

However, some external factors such as smoking or obesity may also lie behind the development of kidney cancer. Many studies in the medical literature have also demonstrated an increased incidence of kidney cancer in people with such external factors.

People who attempt to answer the question “Why me?”, often see that there are such factors in their history that lead up to the development of kidney cancer.

Although it is important for people to know whether there are such factors in their history that that associated with increased risk of kidney cancer, blaming yourself for past behaviors will not improve anything or help.

Also, the fact that a person has a risk factor such as smoking does not necessarily indicate that the cause of kidney cancer is smoking.

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2. Genes and Mutations

Cancers occur as a result of mutations in the genes in DNA, which is one of the primary building blocks of our cells.
DNA, which comes from both our parents, controls the functions and growth of cells with the genes it contains.

Some of the genes in our DNA’s control and maintain growth, division and survival and they called as oncogenes.
On the other hand, some genes control cell division and cause cell death if necessary, and these are named as tumor suppressor genes.
In a word, cancers are the result of mutations in DNA that either turn off the tumor suppressor genes or turn on the oncogenes.

The mutations causing this condition are classified as acquired and inherited.

a. Acquired mutations

Some gene mutations can occur throughout a person’s life and these mutations can escape the body’s corrective mechanism.
Cells that develop mutations in their DNA may proliferate to cause cancerous tissue or tumors. Such mutations are called acquired mutations.

In many cases of kidney cancer, the DNA mutations that cause the cancer are acquired ones. Risk factors such as exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, smoking or obesity are probably play a role in the development of acquired mutations. However, the reason behind many mutations has not been clearly identified.

Hypotheses about risk factors

Some hypotheses and theories have been put forward in studies related to why smoking or obesity increases the risk of kidney cancer. The most accepted one is the hypothesis that various chemicals pass through the lungs into the blood after smoking and when they come to the kidney for filtering, they become concentrated in cells there and cause several mutations in DNAs.

In the hypothesis about obesity, it is stated that obesity disrupts the balance of various hormones in the body and therefore the control of growth mechanism of cells is disrupted.

Mutations in VHL gene

Mutations in the VHL gene have been identified in most of the patients with clear cell renal cell carcinoma resulting from acquired or in another words sporadic mutations. These mutations in the VHL gene stop the cells from functioning properly.
Many other gene mutations can also cause renal cell carcinoma. Today, researchers are working to detect these genes.

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b. Inherited mutations

Some inherited DNA changes can lead conditions that cause an increased risk of kidney cancer in some families. These conditions are usually associated with certain syndromes.

Tumor suppressor gene mutations

For example, mutations in the VHL gene that cause von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease are associated with an increased risk of kidney cancer.
The VHL gene is a tumor suppressor gene. So, it normally prevents the uncontrolled growth of cells. However, as a result of mutations in this gene, the control mechanism is disrupted and VHL gene can no longer control the abnormal growth of cells. Therefore, the risk of developing kidney cancer is increased.

Similarly, the same mechanism exists in cases of hereditary Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome (the FLCN gene), familial renal cancer (the SDHB and SDHD genes) and hereditary leiomyoma (the FH gene). Mutations that cause all these syndromes also occur in tumor suppressor genes.

Oncogene mutations

In patients with hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, mutations in the MET gene were detected. The MET gene is an oncogene, unlike VHL and other mentioned genes.
MET is a gene that does not normally function but as a result of some mutation it becomes continuously turn on and causes uncontrolled growth. As a result of this uncontrolled growth, people are more likely to develop papillary renal carcinoma.

Genetic counseling

If you have family history of kidney cancer or other cancers, a number of specific genetic tests may detect gene mutations associated with these syndromes.

If you have family history of kidney cancer or other cancers associated with various syndromes, you may be carrying some mutation in your genes. In such a case, you may want to ask your doctor to identify mutations associated with these syndromes with a number of specific genetic tests.

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3. Risk Factors

Although the exact cause of kidney cancer is not known today, it is known that the risk of developing kidney cancer increases with a number of risk factors.

These risk factors can be listed as follows;

  • Increasing age: The risk of kidney cancer increases with age.
  • Smoking: Smokers have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer than non-smokers. The risk decreases with the quitting of smoking.
  • Obesity: People who are obese are at greater risk of developing kidney cancer than those with average weight.
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure increases the risk of developing kidney cancer.
  • Long-term dialysis: Patients go into dialysis for a long-time due to conditions such as chronic kidney disease are at greater risk of developing kidney cancer.
  • Inherited syndromes: The incidence of kidney cancer is increased in people born with certain syndromes such as von Hippel-Lindau disease, Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, tuberous sclerosis complex, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma or familial renal cancer.
  • Family history: Even if there is no inherited syndrome, people with a family history of kidney cancer have a higher risk of having kidney cancer.

4. Prevention

Taking a few steps in your life, will protect you from kidney cancer and reduce your risk of developing kidney cancer.

Here are a few things you can do to improve your risk of developing kidney cancer;

  • Quitting smoking: If you smoke, you should stop smoking. Support programs, medications and many other methods such as nicotine gum will help you quit smoking.
  • Have a healthy weight: Strive to maintain a weight that is within healthy limits. If you are overweight or obese, try to reduce the number of calories you take each day and try to be physically active every day.
  • Regulate your blood pressures: Consult your doctor to find out if your blood pressure is within normal limits. If you have hypertension, discuss your options with your doctor to lower your blood pressure. Simply exercise, weight loss and dietary changes can help you in this issue.

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