A mutated gene has been found in a third of patients with the most common form of kidney cancer.
The researchers said the discovery of a second major gene linked to renal cancer was a major advance.
The study, published in the journal Nature, shows the gene is involved in packaging DNA in the body’s cells.
The Institute of Cancer Research said the study provided a better picture of how the cancer formed and paved the way for future therapies.
Kidney cancer is incredibly good at evading detection; in around half of cases the sufferer has no symptoms.
In 2008, nearly 4,000 people in the UK died from the illness.
Completing the picture
Scientists have been gradually unravelling the genetic nature of kidney cancer for years.
The main gene involved, the tumour suppressor VHL, is mutated in eight out of 10 patients, but is not the whole picture.
Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have discovered several other genes which play a part, but have now discovered a gene, PBRM1, which is mutated in around a third of cases.
Professor Mike Stratton, director of the Sanger Institute, said: “Our discovery is a major advance.
“We think we may have an almost complete understanding of the set of abnormal genes which drive this cancer.
“This insight will provide us with many new therapeutic directions.”
Kidney cancer is the seventh most common cancer in men and the ninth in women.
Dr Elizabeth Rapley, Institute of Cancer Research, said: “This cancer has a poor prognosis with fewer than 50% of patients surviving their disease for more than five years.
“The research provides a better and more complete picture of the genetic changes needed for renal cancer to develop.
“It highlights the importance of genes that wind and unwind DNA in renal cancer and paves the way for the development of personalised cancer therapies that exploit these mutations.”