Renal cancerPatient friendly summary

  • Kidney (renal) cancer is one of the top 19 cancers sensitive to vitamin D.
  • Kidney cancer death rates are lower in areas with more UVB light.
  • Vitamin D may reduce the risk of kidney cancer by 15% to 25%.
  • Vitamin D may also increase survival rates of kidney cancer.

Each year, kidney (renal) cancer affects approximately 61,000 Americans and kills about 13,000. 

Risk factors

Risk factors for kidney cancer include:

  • Diet high in animal products
  • Environmental chemicals (pesticides or herbicides)

Sunlight exposure and renal cancer risk

Kidney cancer is one of the top 19 cancers sensitive to vitamin D. Death rates from this disorder are lower in areas with more ultraviolet-B (UVB) light. This is similar to studies of breast cancer.

Vitamin D and renal cancer

Vitamin D levels

The rates of breast, colon, and rectal cancer decrease as vitamin D levels increase. At first there is a rapid decrease, as very low levels of vitamin D [less than 10 ng/mL [25 nmol/L]) increase to 20–30 ng/mL (50-75 nmol/L). Then the cancer rate decreases more slowly until vitamin D levels reach about 50 ng/mL (125 nmol/L). There are no comparable findings for other cancers. However, it is assumed that renal cancer acts in a similar manner.

How vitamin D works

Vitamin D blocks the growth of cancer tumors. Calcitriol, an active form of vitamin D, is produced by the body. Calcitriol provides numerous benefits against cancer:

  • Encourages cells to either adapt to their organ or commit apoptosis (cell suicide)
  • Keeps the surface layer of organs intact, making it harder for cancer to invade.
  • Limits blood supply to the tumor
  • Reduces the spread of cancer  


Based on studies of breast and colorectal cancer, compared to low vitamin D levels (less than 20 ng/mL [50 nmol/L]), higher levels (30–40 ng/mL [75–100 nmol/L]) may lower kidney cancer risk by 15% to 25%. These levels may also increase survival after diagnosis.

Taking 1000–4000 international units (IU) (25–100 mcg)/day of vitamin D is generally needed to reach blood levels of 30–40 ng/mL (75–100 nmol/L).

Vitamin D and calcium

Studies have shown that taking both vitamin D and calcium provides additional cancer protection for many types of cancer. This includes kidney cancer. Calcium intake of more than 1000 mg/day from either diet or supplements may be beneficial.


There are no reported studies using vitamin D to treat kidney cancer. However, based on studies of other cancers, it seems likely that vitamin D would be beneficial for people with kidney cancer.

People with kidney cancer might consider taking 5000 IU (125 mcg)/day of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). This will raise vitamin D levels to more than 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L).

Find out more...

Do you want to find out more and see the research upon which this summary is based?  Read our detailed evidence summary on Renal cancer.

Page last edited: 05 August 2011