Staging of renal cell carcinoma: current progress and potential advances

Pathology. 2021 Jan;53(1):120-128. doi: 10.1016/j.pathol.2020.08.007. Epub 2020 Oct 26.


Formal staging classifications for renal cell carcinoma (RCC) were first proposed in 1978 and were incorporated into the Tumour, Nodes, Metastases (TNM) system initially published by the Union Internationale Contre le Cancer (UICC) in 1978. There has been a gradual evolution of grading criteria through six separate editions of the UICC TNM Classification, with the latest edition being published in 2016. Somewhat surprisingly there were no changes to the T category criteria from the 2009 to the 2016 editions of the classification, although an erratum has subsequently been published that incorporated the minor changes included in the eighth edition of the TNM Classification published by the American Joint Committee on Cancer. Localised tumours are staged according to the size of the primary tumour, with the TNM classification recognising that these tumours may exceed 10 cm in diameter. This is unfortunate as there is good evidence to demonstrate that, for clear cell RCC, virtually all tumours >7 cm in diameter and a substantial proportion of tumours <7 cm in diameter, show extra-renal spread. Infiltration of tumour beyond the renal capsule into the peri-renal fat is also categorised as T3a, however the clinical importance of this remains unclear. The classification of microvascular invasion within the renal sinus requires clarification, as does the prognostic significance of tumour in small vessels within the kidney.

Keywords: Renal cell carcinoma; Tumour Nodes Metastases; Union Internationale Contre le Cancer; peri-renal fat; prognosis; renal sinus invasion; staging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Kidney Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Staging / trends*