Renal pelvis and ureter cancer

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Risk factors for renal pelvis and ureter cancer

A risk factor is something that increases the risk of developing cancer. It could be a behaviour, substance or condition. Most cancers are the result of many risk factors. Smoking tobacco is the most important risk factor for renal pelvis and ureter cancer. But sometimes renal pelvis or ureter cancer develops in people who don’t have any of the risk factors described below.

Cancer of the renal pelvis or ureter affects more men than women. It is rare in people under the age of 65 years.

Risk factors are generally listed in order from most to least important. But in most cases, it is impossible to rank them with absolute certainty.

Research shows that there is no link between coffee and alcohol and a higher risk for renal pelvis and ureter cancer. However, it is important to remember that there is strong evidence that drinking alcohol increases the risk of several other cancers.

Known risk factors

There is convincing evidence that the following factors increase your risk for renal pelvis and ureter cancer.


Smoking tobacco is the strongest risk factor for cancer of the renal pelvis or ureter. The longer you smoke and the more cigarettes you smoke, the greater your risk.

Aristolochic acids

Aristolochic acids are found naturally in several types of plants. These plants may be used in some traditional Chinese medicines that treat arthritis and other diseases caused by inflammation in the body.

People who take herbal products with aristolochic acids have a higher risk for renal pelvis and ureter cancer, as well as an increased risk for kidney damage.

Balkan endemic nephropathy

Balkan endemic nephropathy (BEN) is a serious kidney disease that only occurs in clusters of rural villages in the Balkan area of Eastern Europe, including Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. People with BEN have a higher risk of developing cancer of the renal pelvis or ureter. Researchers found that seeds from weeds containing aristolochic acids are found in food that is grown and eaten in the area. But not everyone in the area develops BEN after exposure to foods that contain aristolochic acid. Researchers think that there may be an inherited, or genetic, susceptibility that makes some people more likely to develop BEN if they eat foods with aristolochic acids.

Chronic kidney stones or infections

Kidney stones develop when mineral crystals in the urine stick together to form small, hard deposits. People who have a lot of kidney stones or kidney infections have a higher risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, which is usually rare in the renal pelvis or ureter.


Phenacetin is a type of pain reliever. Medicines with phenacetin were banned in the early 1980s, so it is no longer likely to be a major risk factor. But people who took 3 or more phenacetin pills a day over a number of years have a higher risk for renal pelvis and ureter cancer.

Possible risk factors

The following are risk factors for urothelial carcinoma in the bladder, which is similar to urothelial carcinoma in the renal pelvis and ureter. Because these are similar cancers, researchers think that these risk factors may also increase the risk for renal pelvis and ureter cancer. More research is needed to clarify the role of these factors for renal pelvis and ureter cancer.


Arsenic in drinking water is a known risk for bladder cancer. It may also increase risk for renal pelvis and ureter cancer.

Occupational exposures

There are several occupational exposures that increase the risk for bladder cancer that may also increase risk for renal pelvis and bladder cancer. These include exposure to certain chemicals called aromatic amines. Workers in the following industries have the greatest exposure to aromatic amines:

  • painting
  • rubber production
  • textile and dye
  • production of aluminum and other metals

Questions to ask your healthcare team

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about risks.


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