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Incidence of kidney cancer in the UK

The definition of kidney cancer includes cancers of the renal parenchyma (90%), the renal pelvis (5%) and the ureter (5%).

Cancers of the renal parenchyma are also known as renal cell carcinomas (RCC). There are eight subgroups of RCCs;

  • Conventional or clear cell RCC – this can also be called non-papillary RCC and accounts for 75% of RCC cases
  • Papillary or chromophilic RCC accounts for 10-15% of RCC cases
  • Chromophobe RCC accounts for about 5% of cases
  • Collecting duct carcinoma
  • Renal medullary carcinoma
  • Mucinous tubular and spindle-cell carcinoma
  • Renal translocation carcinoma
  • Unclassified renal cell carcinoma, the latter five of which together make up the remaining 5-10% of RCC tumours.

Kidney cancer accounts for 4% of all new cases of cancer diagnosed in men, and just over 2% of all cancers in women in the UK (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).

Kidney cancer is therefore a relatively rare cancer; however, some reports have indicated an increasing incidence globally, including in the UK. This increase is due in part to the wider application of diagnostic imaging techniques, leading to the incidental detection of asymptomatic kidney tumours. Changes in lifestyles have increased certain risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, which may have also contributed to the increase in incidence.

Incidence of kidney cancer in the UK
Between 2016-2018, kidney cancer was the 7th most common cancer in adults in the UK, there were around 13,320 new cases of kidney cancer in the UK between 2016-2018, that’s around 36 cases diagnosed every day. There were 4,700 kidney cancer deaths in the UK in 2017-2019, that’s around 13 deaths every day; this accounts for about 3% of all cancer deaths in the UK.

In UK men, it is the fifth most common cancer, with around 8,400 new cases in 2016-2018 and in UK women it ranked tenth most common cancer, with around 4,900 new cases between 2016-2018.

It has been estimated that the lifetime risk of developing kidney cancer is 1 in 52 men and 1 in 87 women will be diagnosed with kidney cancer during their lifetime.

The number of new cases and rates for kidney cancer in the UK and its constituent countries between 2016-2018 are shown in Table 1. The crude incidence rate (the number of kidney cancer cases divided by the population and multiplied by 100,000) shows there are about 20 new kidney cancer cases for every 100,000 males per year in the UK, and 12 cases for every 100,000 females per year.

Table 1.

The crude incidence rate doesn’t take into account the age of the population, and since cancer generally affects older people, the crude incidence rate is greatly affected by the proportion of older people in the population. The European age-standardised rates are adjusted to take into account the number of old or young people in the population. European age-standardised rates do not differ significantly between UK countries for either sex.

Kidney cancer is rare in young adults and children, but rates begin to rise after the age of 40. About three-quarters of people diagnosed with kidney cancer (75%) are over 60 years old and the highest rates are in the 70-74 age range for men and 75-79 age range for women. In the UK in 2016-2018, on average each year around a third of new cases (34%) were in people aged 75 and over.

Kidney cancer rarely affects children, and about 45-50 paediatric cases are diagnosed in the UK each year. About 75% of childhood kidney cancer occurs in the under-fives. The most common paediatric kidney cancer is Wilm’s tumour. Others include hereditary kidney cancer syndromes, such as von Hippel-Lindau disease (see Childhood Kidney Cancer fact sheet for more information).

Geographic variations in the incidence of kidney cancer
The incidence of kidney cancer varies between different regions of the UK and Ireland for both men and women. In Scotland, parts of Wales, the southwest and the north of England, the age-standardised rates for women are higher than the UK average, while the incidence in London, the South East and the East Midlands are below average. This distribution of kidney cancer follows the geographic pattern of two known risk factors for kidney cancer, namely smoking and obesity.

For kidney cancer, like most cancer types, incidence increases with age. This largely reflects cell DNA damage accumulating over time. Damage can result from biological processes or from exposure to risk factors. A drop or plateau in incidence in the oldest age groups often indicates reduced diagnostic activity perhaps due to general ill health.

Age-specific incidence rates rise from around 35 to 39, steadily for females and more steeply for males. The highest rates are in in the 85 to 89 age group for females and males.

Incidence rates are significantly lower in females than males in a number of (mainly older) age groups. The gap is widest at age 90+, when the age-specific incidence rate is 2.3 times lower in females than males.

Trends in the incidence of kidney cancer

Kidney cancer European age-standardised (AS) incidence rates for females and males combined increased by 88% in the UK between 1993-1995 and 2016-2018. The increase was of a similar size in females and males.

Over the last decade in the UK (between 2006-2008 and 2016-2018), kidney cancer AS incidence rates for females and males combined increased by 29%. In females AS incidence rates increased by 28%, and in males rates increased by 26%.

Kidney cancer is the 14th most common cancer worldwide. It is the 9th most common cancer in men and the 14th most common cancer in women. There were more than 430,000 new cases of kidney cancer globally in 2020.

*All source data Cancer Research UK,, Accessed 2024

Kidney cancer statistics