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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 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 by age and sex

In 2014, kidney cancer was the seventh most common cancer in adults in the UK, there were around 12,500 new cases of kidney cancer in the UK in 2014, that’s 34 cases diagnosed every day. There were 4,400 kidney cancer deaths in the UK in 2014, that’s 12 deaths every day; this accounts for about 4% of all cancer deaths in the UK.

In UK men, it is the fifth most common cancer, with 7,500 cases diagnosed in 2013, and in UK women it ranked tenth most common cancer, with around 4,400 cases diagnosed in 2013.

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 (Cancer Research UK).

The number of new cases and rates for kidney cancer in the UK and its constituent countries in 2011 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 that 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. 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.

Table 1: Number of new cases and rates of kidney cancer in the UK, 2011

Country New Cases Crude Rate ASR1
Men 5180 19.8 16.2
Women 3189 11.8 8.6
Total 8369 15.8 12.1
Men 364 24.2 17.8
Women 242 15.5 10.0
Total 606 19.8 13.7
Men 534 21.0 16.7
Women 370 13.7 9.1
Total 904 17.2 12.6
Northern Ireland      
Men 179 20.1 18.1
Women 86 9.3 7.5
Total 265 14.6 12.3
Men 6257 20.1 16.4
Women 3887 12.1 8.7
Total 10144 16.0 12.3

1 Directly age-standardised rate (ASR) per 100,000 using European standard populations

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. More than a third of cases (35%) were diagnosed in people aged over 75 years between 2009 and 2011.

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).

figure 1 incidence
Figure 1 shows the incidence of kidney cancer by age-group, UK, 2009-2011(Figure courtesy of Cancer Research UK)


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 south west 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 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.

Table 2 presents the geographic spread of the incidence of newly-diagnosed kidney cancer for males and females in England [1]. The data are presented by region of England for the year 2011. Age standardised rates per 100,000 people using the European standard populations and mortality:incidence ratios are also presented. The mortality:incidence ratio gives an indication of the number of people who died from kidney cancer in 2011, the higher the ratio, the greater the number of people who died from kidney cancer.
Table 2: Incidence of newly diagnosed kidney cancer and mortality for males and females by region of England, 2011[1]


    Males     Females  
Country/Region Incidence ASR1 Mortality: Incidence Ratio Incidence ASR1 Mortality: Incidence Ratio
 England 4405 14.0 0.44 2736 7.5 0.45
North East 245 15.1 0.41 177 9.2 0.40
North West 554 13.0 0.50 398 8.1 0.48
Yorkshire and The Humber 507 15.9 0.41 329 8.7 0.37
East Midlands 391 13.8 0.46 201 6.4 0.53
West Midlands 486 14.3 0.46 310 8.0 0.57
East 523 14.1 0.41 315 7.3 0.42
London 429 12.0 0.40 260 6.2 0.46
South East 729 13.7 0.47 420 6.8 0.41
South West 541 15.0 0.42 326 8.2 0.40

1 Directly age-standardised rate (ASR) per 100,000 using European standard populations

Trends in the incidence of kidney cancer

The global incidence of kidney cancer has been increasing since the 1970s. In Great Britain, the incidence of kidney cancer in men has more than doubled from 7.1 per 100,000 in 1975, to 16.4 per 100,000 in 2011. In women, the incidence has nearly tripled over the same period, from 3.2 to 8.7 per 100,000 (Figure 2). Most of this increase has occurred in people over the age of 60.

This increase in incidence is due, in part, to the introduction of new imaging techniques, such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), resulting in the incidental detection of asymptomatic disease. However, studies in the USA and UK have shown that some of this increase in incidence is in fact real and not solely attributed to incidentally-detected tumours. In addition, changes to certain lifestyle cancer risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, are also thought to contribute to this increase in incidence.

figure 2 incidence
Figure 2 European age-standardised incidence rates, Great Britain, 1975-2011(Figure courtesy of Cancer Research UK)

The increasing incidence of kidney cancer by age groups for both men and women in Great Britain between 1975 and 2011 can be seen in Figure 3. The largest increase in incidence has been in people aged over 80, where incidence rates have more than tripled between 1975-1977 and 2009-2011.

Figure 3 European age-standardised incidence rates by age, Great Britain 1975-2011 (Figure courtesy of Cancer Research UK)

figure 3 incidence