Update on the Role of Imaging in Clinical Staging and Restaging of Renal Cell Carcinoma Based on the AJCC 8th Edition, From the AJR Special Series on Cancer Staging

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2021 Sep;217(3):541-555. doi: 10.2214/AJR.21.25493. Epub 2021 Mar 24.


This article reviews the essential role of imaging in clinical staging and restaging of renal cell carcinoma (RCC). To completely characterize and stage an indeterminate renal mass, renal CT or MRI without and with IV contrast administration is recommended. The critical items for initial clinical staging of an indeterminate renal mass or of a known RCC according to the TNM staging system are tumor size, renal sinus fat invasion, urinary collecting system invasion, perinephric fat invasion, venous invasion, adrenal gland invasion, invasion of the perirenal (Gerota) fascia, invasion into other adjacent organs, the presence of enlarged or pathologic regional (retroperitoneal) lymph nodes, and the presence of distant metastatic disease. Larger tumor size is associated with higher stage disease and invasiveness, lymph node spread, and distant metastatic disease. Imaging practice guidelines for clinical staging of RCC, as well as the role of renal mass biopsy, are highlighted. Specific findings associated with response of advanced cancer to antiangiogenic therapy and immunotherapy are discussed, as well as limitations of changes in tumor size after targeted therapy. The accurate clinical staging and restaging of RCC using renal CT or MRI provides important prognostic information and helps guide the optimal management of patients with RCC.

Keywords: CT; RCC; indeterminate renal mass; renal cell carcinoma; staging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / diagnostic imaging*
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Kidney / diagnostic imaging
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Kidney Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Kidney Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*