Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults, which is associated with poor prognosis and high recurrence. Long non‑coding RNAs (lncRNAs) have been reported to be dysregulated in cancer and to be important in the regulation of carcinogenesis, thus suggesting that this class of molecules may be used as biomarkers in cancer. The lncRNA urothelial carcinoma associated 1 (UCA1) has been observed to be upregulated and to function as an oncogene in certain types of cancer; however, the role of UCA1 in RCC remains to be elucidated. The present study aimed to determine the expression and function of UCA1 in RCC. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) was used to determine the expression levels of UCA1 in 46 paired RCC and adjacent normal tissue samples. Furthermore, qPCR was used to determine the expression levels of UCA1 in four RCC cell lines compared with the human embryonic kidney 293T cell line. The impact of UCA1 on cell migration, proliferation and apoptosis was investigated by wound scratch assay, MTT and flow cytometry, respectively. The results of the present study demonstrated that UCA1 expression levels were significantly increased in RCC tissues and cells, as compared with the controls. Ectopic expression and gene silencing of UCA1 in RCC cell lines exerted opposite effects on cellular proliferation, migration and apoptosis, and the results suggested that UCA1 may function as an oncogene in RCC. These results indicated that UCA1 may be considered as a promising biomarker for diagnosis, and a therapeutic target in RCC. Further research is required to elucidate the role and target genes of UCA1 in RCC.