Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is a cause of significant morbidity and mortality, with an estimated 35,000 new cases and 12,480 deaths in the United States in 2003. Recent advances in imaging technology, pathology, urology, and oncology permit early diagnosis of RCC and facilitate optimal management. The 2004 World Health Organization classification for renal neoplasms recognizes several distinct histologic subtypes of RCC. These subtypes include clear cell RCC, papillary RCC, chromophobe RCC, hereditary cancer syndromes, multilocular cystic RCC, collecting duct carcinoma, medullary carcinoma, mucinous tubular and spindle cell carcinoma, neuroblastoma-associated RCC, Xp11.2 translocation-TFE3 carcinoma, and unclassified lesions. Different histologic subtypes of RCC have characteristic histomorphologic and biologic profiles. Clear cell RCC is the most common subtype and has a less favorable prognosis (stage for stage) than do papillary RCC and chromophobe RCC. Collecting duct carcinoma and renal medullary carcinoma are associated with aggressive clinical behavior and a poor prognosis.