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What causes RCC?

Posts: 58
Joined: May 2012

When I was at MD Anderson, I was in a discussion with my Doctor whether I should have my kids (both young adults) checked sometime for RCC. He told me that RCC was environmental, not hereditary. At the time I failed to pursue the cause further. In the mid 1970's to mid 1980's I worked in the Houston Shipyards with petroleum barges. I had figured that being around leaded and unleaded gasoline, breathing the fumes when we washed out the barges probably had a big influence on me developing RCC. But after thinking about it, I thought that would have more of an influence on lungs instead of kidneys.

Is there a study that confirms what mostly causes RCC? Or does anyone know what might cause it?


garym's picture
Posts: 1651
Joined: Nov 2009

Mainly environmental yes, but RCC can be hereditary, there are threads here discussing it. I have 4 adult children and told them that since their maternal grandfather and father both had it they should have a baseline ultrasound at a minimum as a precaution. Smoking and obesity are also said to be contributing factors, but many here, including me, have never smoked.

Texas_wedge's picture
Posts: 2798
Joined: Nov 2011

Short answer Bill is "NO". There's no shortage of scholarship on the topic, as is evident in sites like this


which contains the following observation

"A specific factor in the etiology of RCC is not known at the moment, although a number of dietary, environmental factors, hormonal, cellular and genetic factors associated with increased risk. RCC consists of a number histologically defined entities which may occur either non-hereditary or hereditary, e.g. the influence of genetic factors in VHL disease, in hereditary papillary RCC and familial RCC."

The major risk factors are obesity and smoking, to which I think can be added bad diet and lack of exercise.

What your doctor told you is probably basically correct but there are clear cases where evidence suggests familial dispostion towards a particular form of cancer and where you'd be daft not to take the possibility into account. On the various forums you see instances of patients who have lost several close family members to RCC. This could be due to family cultures (of bad diet, obesity, smoking habits etc) or to shared exposure to a particularly toxic environment (the example you gave, agrichemicals, industrial processes etc) or to something in the family's genes - who knows.

Your doc was probably being helpful in re-assuring you that you shouldn't panic about your kids but screening seems like a good idea if any suspicious symptoms show up. The problem, as we all know, is that RCC is so often asymptomatic and discovered by chance. Having gone through it, you have much more idea of what to look out for. When I first received my dx, I almost immediately asked about the social desirability of routine mass CT screening but I was swiftly educated as to why this is not the good idea that the naive first reaction imagines it is.

This is the sneaky disease and the complexity is bewildering. Books like "The Emperor of All Maladies" and "anticancer" make fascinating reading because we can learn so much but will still have hardly even scratched the surface of what we want to know.

PS if your children are grown up with no signs of problems, the following statement (from the site I cited above) will be some comfort:

"Hereditary RCC is characterized by the appearance of multiple and bilateral tumors and an early age of onset."

Posts: 58
Joined: May 2012

Great info!! Thanks!

I also have never smoked and at most I have been is 10 lbs over my normal weight. I keep that off as much as possible by walking stairs instead of elevators when possible. I seem to spend a lot of my day in the stairwell each day since the building I support is six floors. I have been exposed to a lot of secondhand smoke when I worked those years in the shipyards.

My diet on the other hand could be the culprit. I have a sweet tooth and will most likely eat junk instead of a decent meal.

donna_lee's picture
Posts: 1014
Joined: Feb 2009

If researchers could pin down your question, they would make a fortune. Everyone is subjected to so many things during a lifetime-environmental, heretitary, dietary, second-hand, etc. And there is always the mixture percentage of factors.
Yes, I was exposed to 2-4-D (agent orange) as it was a widely used herbicide that I used in the early 70's, just as many others did to erradicate certain types of weeds while gardening. My parents smoked, and I grew up in a home with oil heat--cough, cough. And many of my friends did the same, but they didn't develop kidney cancer.
My paternal grandparents and aunt, and father all developed cancer. But I have no idea about my mom's side.

The lucky part for many of us has been to be diagnosed, more so because we present with other problems/symptoms and the cancer is found on a fluke.

I don't think anyone has the answer to your question, yet. When I joined "the club" just over 6 years ago, most of the drugs were still in test phase, and some hadn't even been developed. Tune in in 10 years and see where Kidney Cancer ranks.

Good Luck as you deal with this temporary set-back in your life plan. It helps you focus on what is really important to you and your family.

JackieP125's picture
Posts: 56
Joined: Jan 2012

I smoked for 40 years. Yep.... loved those cigarettes. They were great with coffee and beer. As the song says.... it's always your favorite sin that will do you in.

Limelife50's picture
Posts: 476
Joined: Nov 2011

I did do a little research on bilateral RCC and found only 20% of such cases were genetic the other 80 percent had no genetic connection

Texas_wedge's picture
Posts: 2798
Joined: Nov 2011

A few further observations in this little item on the UK NHS site:


foxhd's picture
Posts: 3183
Joined: Oct 2011

Actually, I'm glad that there is no definite cause for renal cancer. I'd be upset if I found out that it came from using tooth paste or wearing green shirts. I'd hate to know I could have avoided it with just a lifestyle change. I don't want to find out it is my fault. Like smoking and lung cancer.

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