Molecular genetic analysis of familial and non-familial cases of conventional renal cell carcinoma (RCC) revealed a critical role(s) for multiple genes on human chromosome 3. For some of these genes, e.g. VHL, such a role has been firmly established, whereas for others, definite confirmation is still pending. Additionally, a novel role for constitutional chromosome 3 translocations as risk factors for conventional RCC development is rapidly emerging. Also, several candidate loci have been mapped to other chromosomes in both familial and non-familial RCCs of distinct histologic subtypes. The MET gene on chromosome 7, for example, was found to be involved in both forms of papillary RCC. A PRCC-TFE3 fusion gene is typically encountered in t(X;1)-positive non-familial papillary RCCs and results in abrogation of the cell cycle mitotic spindle checkpoint in a dominant-negative fashion, thus leading to RCC. Together, these data turn human RCC into a model system in which different aspects of both familial and non-familial syndromes may act as novel paradigms for cancer development.