The foundations of the generally accepted principles underlying the surgical management of renal cell carcinoma (RCC) were best annunciated in 1969 by Robson in his classic description of the radical nephrectomy [J Urol 1969;101;297]. Since then, much has changed in our understanding of the basic biology and genetics of kidney cancer, advances in renal imaging and clinical staging have led to the increased detection of incidental, lower stage, organ-confined tumors more amendable to expanded surgical options, surgical techniques themselves have evolved, and surgical equipment technology has advanced to make possible new methods of managing renal tumors in situ. Thus, the management of both localized and metastatic RCC has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, predicated on these major advancements in renal imaging, surgical techniques, and the development of effective immunotherapies for advanced disease. In this review, the evolution in thinking regarding the tenets of the radical nephrectomy will be examined, including the necessity for removal of the entire kidney, the possibility of sparing the adrenal gland, when and how extensive a lymphadenectomy should be performed, the development of laparoscopic and percutaneous nephron-sparing surgery using ablative technologies, and the role of nephrectomy and metastasectomy in patients with metastatic RCC. Here, we review current concepts and outcomes on the surgical management of RCC to help elucidate some of these changes, from the evolution of open to laparoscopic to percutaneous, from radical to partial to ablative approaches.