Renal cell carcinoma classification

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Renal cell carcinoma may be classified according to histologic appearance of the tumor into 6 subtypes: conventional (clear cell), papillary, chromophobe, oncocytoma, collecting duct, and unclassified.


The following tables classify renal cell carcinoma according to histologic appearance and differentiates sporadic from hereditary forms of renal cell carcinoma. Clear type (also called Conventional type) renal cell carcinoma is considered the most common type of renal carcinoma. The most common classification of renal cell carcinoma is based on the histopathological appearance of the tumor. There are currently six subtypes of renal cell carcinoma, most common of which are the conventional (also called clear cell) renal carcinoma, accounting for approximately 75% of all cases.[1] Renal cell carcinoma may also be clinically classified based on the staging of the tumor, as shown below.

Histologic Appearance

Heidelberg Classification Renal Cell Carcinoma According to Histological Appearance (1997)[1][2]
Histologic Appearance Incidence (%)
Conventional (Clear Cell) 75
Papillary 12
Chromophobe 4
Oncocytoma 4
Collecting Duct < 1
Unclassified 3 - 5
Adapted from Cohen HT, McGovern FJ. Renal-cell carcinoma.N Engl J Med. 2005; 353:2477-90

More than 70% of renal cell carcinomas are clear cell carcinomas. Papillary carcinomas are the second most common renal cell carcinomas. The least common types of renal cell carcinomas are collecting-duct renal cell carcinomas, accounting for less than 1% of all cases.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Cohen HT, McGovern FJ (2005). "Renal-cell carcinoma". N Engl J Med. 353 (23): 2477–90. doi:10.1056/NEJMra043172. PMID 16339096.
  2. Kovacs G, Akhtar M, Beckwith BJ, Bugert P, Cooper CS, Delahunt B; et al. (1997). "The Heidelberg classification of renal cell tumours". J Pathol. 183 (2): 131–3. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1096-9896(199710)183:2<131::AID-PATH931>3.0.CO;2-G. PMID 9390023.