Approximately 2% of men and 1.2% of women will be diagnosed with kidney cancer during their lifetimes. The most common type of kidney cancer is called renal cell carcinoma. There are several subtypes of renal cell carcinoma that are characterized by the way the cells look under a microscope. Each subtype provides information about treatment options for patients but also information about whether a particular type of kidney cancer is more likely to be hereditary:
Renal pelvic cancers make up 5% of kidney cancers and occur in the lining where the ureters attach to the kidney. Because these cancers look like bladder cancer under the microscope, they are often called transitional cell carcinomas.
Sarcoma of the kidney is rare and can occur in the blood vessels or connective tissue.
Finally, there are benign tumors of the kidney. While not cancerous, they can sometimes cause medical problems and may require intervention. Examples include: renal adenomas, angiomyolipomas, and oncocytomas.
There are many different causes and risk factors for developing kidney cancer, including genetics, environment, and chance. As with most cancers, a specific cause for the great majority of these cancers cannot be identified. Rather, it is likely that there are multiple factors which play a part in the development of the cancer.
It is estimated that 5% of kidney cancers are due to a hereditary cause. Individuals with bilateral or multifocal renal cell carcinoma or kidney cancer that is early onset (diagnosed at age 46 or younger) should consider genetic counseling. Certain subtypes of renal cell carcinoma are more commonly hereditary, such as papillary, chromophobe kidney cancers or oncocytic kidney tumors. Syndromes associated with hereditary kidney cancer include: